January 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
I haven’t been proud of myself lately. Since I moved here, it’s been a whirlpool of insecurities, anxiousness, stress and generally, low self-esteem. Perhaps its the new environment. Perhaps its the culture. Perhaps its the workload. Perhaps its just not having my routine yoga time or workout squad. Perhaps its just the 360 degree change.
Yet I chose this.
Move across country for something I told myself not to do. Why? Because it had failed on me countless of times. This is different. The heart tells itself. This is new. Give this vulnerability a second chance.
And so, I did.
The day I left, there was no one at home to send me off. It was just a huge black luggage and passport. I packed for a few days, unpacked and pack again. I have moved several times in my life. Several times across continents, countries, cities, etc. Everytime I move, I face with the same question, how can one pack their entire life in a 30kg suitcase? Have transport authorities who set baggage allowance ask themselves this? Sure you pay of the “extra’’ baggage but those thoughts just make me feel so guilty of transporting my years of photography, book, kitchen utensil collections that I could, possibly, start all over again.
Why would I?
Nevertheless, I packed what was necessary for the next couple of months and drag it to the airport. The heart felt heavier on the flight and the short flight took longer than it seem. We flew across large green fields, brown narrow lanes, small villages with golden spots of pagoda here and there. I arrived in the early afternoon to a manic international airport. The dense familiar smog, chaotic organise traffic, and foreign language spoke louder than usual. The uneasiness builds inside as I wait for a ride.
He drove in front of me and parked the car. I didn’t even notice it as I was too occupied observing locals boarding planes for the first time in their lives. Thinking to myself, how fortunate I’ve been to be old enough to remember my first time. And for them, they have perhaps waited their whole lives for this moment. While I have waited my whole life for someone special to love.
We hugged, kissed and got on the car quickly, before getting more stares from conservatives locals. He surprised me with a bouquet of fresh market white roses and daisies.
That was three months ago.
Half an hour after picking me up, we went straight down to business. Oh yes, I was there for work. Did I forgot? Perhaps so.
I had imagine blending in would take time. The struggles of language barriers, kitchen regime and laying out a system.Beyond that, I saw potentials in most of them. A hardworking boy who rolls bread dough better that me; a self-taught manager who goes above and beyond to make customers smile; a reliant part-time student who wants to make a difference in her society by carrying everyone’s responsibilities; a feisty young girl who sticks with everyone through thick or thin. I picture them running their own show, making their parents proud and making themselves proud.
I had imagine us finding time to workout, eat balance meals, be vulnerable to one another and sharing love. I could still continue to mediate, find a community that share the same philosophy of keeping a balance lifestyle.
Did it all happen?
Yes, and no.
I had feared the not happening and made happen. Everytime something didn’t go the way it “should”; one of us would flip. In an instant we would know. That the blaming game was on. The quiet romances fades. The awkward silence begun. The space between one another got wider. Stubborn fools.
We had expected. Failed to plan for bad days and planned to fail for better days. One way or another. No amount of ego could bridge human beings together. Yet, there isn’t any amount of ego needed to bring people together.
They had warned me not to poop and sleep in the same place. They had warned me not to work and be with someone together. They had warned me about this country and all the uncertainties.
They had told me not to write anymore because my grammar is horrific and this is too personal.
They had told me my chocolate cake sucks.
They had and told us too. We are stubborn individuals who reluctantly want to go out our way and when someone warns you about something you find ways to counter that negativity and turn it into something you can be positive about. Wasn’t that why individuals like us stand out from the crowd?
The leap of faith.
I’ll keep pooping.
I’ll keep working.
I’ll keep writing
I’ll keep baking.
Because one day, I will find people who appreciates the simplicity of them all and stick to the sincerity. There will people reading this story and find comforts in the words from their plight.
“There are no what-ifs, only a journey of a life well lived. Follow your heart, and be true to yourself”, – from a great friend somewhere in Selangor to Yangon.
January 2, 2017 § 2 Comments
As the year ends, I can only resort to feeling thankful for everything that had happened or become. Somedays I feel tired of playing the roles. A cook running a small f&b place, a daughter living abroad from her best friend/mother, a food writer with little stories that only a few can appreciate, a plant based eater who constantly have to explain why I am one.
Days in the kitchen get hard, when it starts on a bad note. Rebellious millennials cooking with the lack of passion, mess up the prep and create a playful environment. Customers wanting everything but nothing on the menu. Yes I want your money but the integrity with the land’s produce and cooking with the crew are far more honourable than that. And I hope you honour the same philosophy.
Somedays moving here and after working in the industry for 10 years make me feel so small like I have not learnt anything at all or people take my word as a joke. That slaving through kitchens and be on the line with tough cooks or business people were merely grazing through white clouds.
But here is a small voice inside me that whispers to me before I sleep, that I should stay steadfast in my journey. That when people can’t see the rightness of my actions, I should at least have faith in myself. After all, if you come with good intentions there shouldn’t be anything in between that and the present moment.
Apart from other people’s ego.
Here is to 2017. May your year be filled with simple meanings. Good company. Sincere connections. Honesty.
December 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
For the last 30 days, I’ve been on the move with a crew for a cause; well to be specific, men’s health. While others grow a moustache, host an event, donate or go for a ride; I joined my best workout instructor, Jev, to move for a month. He is known to program bootcamps that leaves us sweating or laying face flat on the floor. Every Saturday for the last 6 months, I joined Kilter Crew at Fort Canning for an hour worth of WOD & stairs. I have never felt so motivated to exercise in my life.
So when I heard that Jev is had started a team for Movember, it didn’t take me a second longer to join. I started the month with a stretch on the mat with my partner. He had promised me to try his very best to join me for this movement, despite being overseas.
I have done yoga for the last 10 years. Somedays, I go through the motion of doing it without second thoughts; it is almost unkindly to not do a stretch or pose at some point in the day. Somewhere along the way, I did stop practicing yoga mentally. My body could move along the poses easily but my mind/heart were not in sync. I was quick to anger and get frustrated with little things. I pushed people and myself away. Through these little notches, I grew increasingly aware of my emotions. Seeking solace in mediations, new yoga classes, and motivated myself to step outside my comfort zone.
I started running a year ago. The first 500m was extremely difficult. I couldn’t even hold my pace and breathe consistently. My feet always kicked higher than they were meant too, leaving me with knee and hip injuries. My ex-boyfriend would ridicule me with my determination to run because I couldn’t even get the basics right. How could one learn how to run before walking right? Needless to say, I threw all the bad habits out of the window (including the asshole) and invested in taking 500m to 800m to 1km. I threw out the old pair of fancy running shoes and got to know my sole better by consulting the local running store; read up about distance running and motivated myself with personal stories.
Since then, the morning/evening sun I look forward to waking up early or reserving my energy till the evening for a run. 6km/8km seems like a breeze and I am more determine to do a marathon just to check it off my list in this lifetime.
Half way through Movember, I moved to Yangon, Burma. There was work, but more importantly there is someone. And like all change, there come challenges. I lost my workout community. I lost my running routes. I lost the ability to mediate properly. What was it to sit still, close your eyes and focus on the breath? I became somewhat a monster to others and myself. Throwing tempers, feeling anxious, projecting an unconscious self to the world.
The negative state of mind, is an ego.
The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist. – Eckhart Tolle
It was hard to turn myself into the cell of awareness. It’s a place of vulnerability and truth. No one likes to be told that they are wrong or are something they don’t perceive themselves to be. But at the same time, it is also a place of love and freedom. A place where you dwell your unconsciousness and make sense of your actions. That there is really no where else to be but the present moment; no one else but your own very self that needs to push all the clutter away and make way for pure light.
I found a local yoga studio, Yangon Yoga House, which became my little sanctuary for quietness. The receptionist and yoga instructors became my little community of joy, vegan foodies and smiles. They have never failed to close a session with great closing lines and encourage me to feel lifted after a tired day.
I have also found a great workout buddy in my partner who keeps me grounded with not pushing myself too much. Our weekly routine to run around kandawgyi lake before a hearty dim sum breakfast meal, has became our thing. I am only hoping that these little steps and habits becomes our lifestyle; also bringing friends together and instilling a sense of well-being for others.
We close Movember at the lake with a short run and 30 pushups, 30 sit ups and 30 burpees. The Move-mber team came in 7 for the National ranking. We are worlds apart but this has kept us close for the last month. A crew that sweats together, stays together.
Here is a lovely quote from my favourite yoga instructor, Jojo, who constantly check in on my practice:
Give gratitude to this breath and this body, remembering it is the only one we get for this lifetime, so let’s treat it with the love, kindness and care that we would treat any other object we wish to keep for an entire lifetime. Be grateful for these legs and feet for carrying us millions of steps to where you are in this moment, to this breath for carrying us from this lifetime into the next.
November 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
Home is where the heart is. I detest this phrase. Where is the heart? Where is home? Why must it be located in a physical sphere or bound to an emotional space? I’m missing home a lot more than I would imagine. I’m missing our usual Sunday mornings coffee runs and getting into work tired from the whole week and looking forward to a beer session.
I miss working out with my kilter crew/crossfit crew. Even though I haven’t been entirely close to them, the community has always been there to support my workout regime and push my physical strength to a higher level.
Most of all, I miss my Mother. My anchor to the everyday routine and journey. She is there for the sad times, to hear me yell or laugh about unforgettable moments. For quiet meals when we don’t feel like talking; laughing at stupid jokes; understanding my needs and keeping me grounded to the heart.
Coming to a new place is difficult. I moved for personal reasons. Reasons, I would think are difficult to find or place an attachment to. Reasons, I think would be unfair to keep them. Sometimes when reasons fail to make one happy, one loses hope in keeping up with this journey.
The culture, the language, the cuisine, the everyday surroundings and faces are all different.
Over the last few days, I have fought with everything unnecessary. The smallest dirt in the kitchen, the unplaced laundry in the basket, the dirty feet marks on our temporary homestay wooden floor etc. The slightest mistakes in the words would hurt me and make me feel like the smallest person on earth. Unable to feel vulnerable because I was told to be strong. To be strong around men, to hold my ground in the military-kitchens and remain steadfast with setbacks.
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness- Brene Brown.
Ironically, I miss the closer love we have had. Perhaps like any new bond, the initial exciting courtship have ended and we are much more like ourselves with distance apart. I got caught up with wanting my rights, ways and usual routines; I got lost in finding a meaning to be here. I voiced my opinions and forced gravity against the flow. I could not see from a different light. I was only fighting with myself to make life more difficult than it already is.
And at the end of them all, I became someone unrecognisable to my own reflection.
When I look at my own timeline, I didn’t recall myself being so anxious about a move. I remember embracing every wave, and held on to the heart like it was a surfboard.You either ride the way or duck dive there.
What happened to the old self? Did I get so complacent with trying to adapt to a new place that I forgot to bring the embrace-it-all/wabi-sabi attitude towards this new journey?
I never missed home so much more; yet just a year ago, I wanted to leave so desperately and never come back to stay again. How can one be in a same place but have extreme feelings? The disenchantments of a new surrounding, the distance between two hearts, finding a new place and building a business together set in very heavily.
Two weeks have passed. Its getting easier. I’ve realised that home is where you found yourself to be and it will always be there; missing it, is merely just missing yourself. “Come back home”, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. Make the best out of it and even if it fails, at least you gave it your very best.
So here is the beginning of devoting myself to making honest food for my crew and building a new community.
October 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
“For an introvert, you really make an effort to seek for a community.”, he said.
I protest of course. How could an introvert who spends most of her time finding ways to be alone with thoughts and the sun or a book, wants to be around people? How could someone who enjoy her own company more than sharing with awkward strangers enjoy big dinners or crowds?
Meeting Pamela today from @Hyggesg put my partner’s words into perspectives. Pamela and I connected via Instagram, even though we already know some mutual friends before hand, it didn’t change the fact that I initiated a meet up via a portal with a perfect stranger. It is odd that for someone who craves space and get energised by spending time alone would want to stretch her social circle. I cherish silence wholeheartedly yet I spend my weekends either working out with a group of high active trainers or stretching out on a mat in a yoga room filled with new comers/regulars yogi practitioners, and look forward to having beers every Sunday evening with my kitchen crew. Plus, if I have the time, I would search for exercise events or community meditation/yoga classes and spend an hour or two surrounded with, new faces.
Some of my radical life events happen because of these meet-ups or initiating a conversation. Writing a cookbook, getting a job at a vegan bakery etc.. Nevertheless, I simply could not put it his words into my head.
Foremost, an introvert isn’t one who avoid social events. Misunderstood. We like people, if they are to our likings. Second, I usually spend the next two days hiding after a big party. All my energy has been drained on one occasion and if I may warn you, I will spend the next couple of hours getting agitated on anything that doesn’t seek interest to me or resonate to my heart. In another words, if I don’t reply you, wait; if I flare up at you, give me space (or dark chocolate, whichever is more convenient). Thirdly, we actually like meeting new people. Because I have so little in common with the other folks, when I find someone who share the same ideology or philosophy there is no turning back in conversations! You are literally in my books, for life!
Back to Pamelia and Hyggesg. She isn’t a coffee person, so we opted for a common ground where I thought would be resonate with her approach in cooking. Simple ingredients, cosy atmosphere, friendly service and quality. She walked comfortably into the dining room and we sat down in welcoming brown sofa. We shared our kitchen experiences: a fair amount of standing in front of sterilised stainless steel tables, cooking standardised food, surrounding ourselves with males/a testosterone filled environment and, unconsciously affecting our daily lives.
“I’m a home cook at heart”, as she takes the pillow from her back and starts to hug it in front of her chest.
We both are. The cookbook and this blog kept my sanity in check while I go through the daily grind. For her, it’s Hyggesg. Feeding people because deep down, beyond the french brigade, sous vide machines, and cling wraps; we cook because we enjoy watching people dive into flakey croissants that makes a new tie old or bite into a thick juicy burger that oozes cheese out of their mouth and into their cheeks so that their partner/date can wipe it for them. Creating moments that hold a special spirit or a new ritual for a couple.
“For someone who’s been in the industry for ten years, how do you cope with juggling a balanced life?”, she wonders.
Unintentionally, we share the same impatience or quick temperament. The kitchen to us, is a very time constraint and precise environment. We are getting nagged and scolded all day long by our chefs. “Turn it off now”; “place the garnish on”; “that’s wrong, do it again “. If you watched Burnt the movie, the scene with Sienna Millar throwing the raw fish to her fish boy isn’t a joke, it’s just another day. A calm day is when there are no praises, just quiet cooking and the sounds of burners going on and off.
“Why are you so slow?”
I certainly did not anticipate for us to question that. In a commercial kitchen, we watch each other’s movements and dance in sync. So if one person slows down, the whole crew slows down and there is really no time for someone to slack off. But as time flies, you build a layer of skin that gets numb to yelling, shouting and physical pain. You desensitises yourself and become less human. A control freak.
Remember how Kat Kinsman spoke about Chefs with Issues at MADFEED? Cooks who work so much suffer with unspoken anxiety issues, alcohol abuse, depression etc…. It’s funny to think of how many of us spent hours in a confined space that strives for perfection become out of whack? Is it really worth it?
I have my first taste of bitterness when I skipped on a reunion dinner for Lunar New Year. It was the very last meal I could have had with a close cousin, whom I lost to a heart attack. I had to service to run. I fed families who spent their holidays together but couldn’t do that for my own. The years that followed had more of these empty chairs moments around the dining table. Birthdays dinner get postponed, no more lunch dates with friends (who eventually gave up texting me), family visits were off my calendars, holidays were packed with churning out extra cakes for customers, you get the idea.
Her current boss lost his girlfriend for five years because he was too focus on his job. Sure it got them a one star, but the sacrifice was his and if I could dig more, I am sure it was the crew as well. We do our fair share of sacrifices, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
As she sipped a cup of hot chocolate made with coconut water, she frowned upon knowing this might possibly be her future.
I reassured her that it is a choice.
The awareness you put into your daily life to differentiate what is personal, work and social becomes natural only if you decide to take an action to it. Many lose touch because they consume or get caught in the pursuit of perfection that they forget the imperfections of nature. Some can’t even remember why they even started cook at all.
Writing Kitchen Stories: being in touch with our feelings/moods and relating it closely to cooking; feeding the crew/my family; working out and meditating, are all steps to keep myself in check. Putting myself out there in the open waters, to be vulnerable and allow vulnerability. Gather a community or be part of one that strives on good causes.
While as introverted as we may be, we take time to express ourselves. To pause for a moment before talking and rather do the walks. Because we all know too well that less, is always more.
*film photographs were taken in Burma earlier this year.
September 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
But before that drop by Koppi, at Helsingborg, for a cup of kaffe. Walking into Koppi felt like a subtle déjà vu, only because I have heard about my friends’ experiences, read about it and followed them on Instagram for almost a year. The feeling of meeting a pen pal whom you have been writing, and finally meeting him/her for the very first time. A comforting yet novel encounter. Standing at the door near the wide clean bar countertop, I was welcomed with friendly hellos from the warm crew : Klas, Rie and Charles.
Koppi sources quality coffee beans and roast them at their new relocated roastery. Like other excellent coffee roasters/cafes, they strive to extract full flavours and aromas from the beans-to-brew. Klas asked for my current flavour preference and went ahead with what he believes to be accommodating, a Bildiimoo Guj Ethiopia and a Karimikui Kenya. Bright, black tea-like and fruity.
“You brought the sun with you”, she said.
I had arrived late in the evening and was immediately warned that the weather has been very gloomy. However the next day, a ray of sun shined through the window stills and greeted us with much delight. I spent most of my time cooking for my host and exploring the city while she was at work. She took an unexpected day off, brought me for a mini tour in the city centre on the small hop on-off boat and made our way to Ekebergrestauranten for dinner.
A typical tourist day out ~ visiting Opera House, designed by Snøhetta (a masterpiece of its own, an architect’s dream and playground); Kon Tiki Museum (a must visit for the wild at heart); Nobel Peace Centre (for very good reads).
View of Oslofjord, the islands and boat, before dinner at Ekerbergrestauranten.
Antique vintage furniture, cocktail bar and espresso counter. Oh and don’t forget the fresh croissants. Fuglen.
I like chancing upon independent cafes and boutique retail shops while walking around town. Further up north towards Grüners gate, there seems to a relaxing yet contemporary atmosphere to the air. People are sitting by the road side drinking coffee, running their errands with their babies on child bike seats or simply admiring the street art.
sharing a pot of Kenya brew and blueberry bread pudding outside Java Oslo whilst enjoying the summer afternoon
a gluten free bun at a neighborhood bakery before visiting Tim Wendelboe , the highly admired coffee roaster and espresso bar with a unique coffee tasting selections.
Norwegians love their coffees, and wines; but they certainly enjoy good design, quality lifestyle and sometimes too much seafood, just sometimes.
September 12, 2016 § Leave a comment
Aspiring actor Hans Christian Anderson was not known for his acting career; his interest fell short but soon found fascination with words. Since, he had written many poems, plays and other fairy tales. In 1837, one of his unique fairy tales was published and 72 years later, it inspired Carl Jacobsen, son of Carlsberg. After an adaptation ballet performance; he commissioned a sculptor to create a bronze statue of the main character that now sits quietly by the waterside of Langelinie Park, Copenhagen. The Danish fairy tale is Little Mermaid and a century later, Den lille Havfrue is still one of this hygge city’s most attractive tourist spots.
The secret to the world’s happiest city derives from the very tender word, hygge, the Danish way of life. They embrace the softness of velvety handwoven cushion pillows, craft dainty jewellery, preparing meals from scratch, gathering close friends to your home and savouring the present moments.
Granted that this visit wasn’t solely for the city, I still had the opportunity to explore and soak in the lifestyle. It was also my first time staying at an Airbnb. Honestly, there is no better way to understanding the local lifestyle but to live like one.
Having accommodation at Nørrebro district is a blessing. Just on Jægersborggade street alone you can find, to name a few: Relæ (an organic Michelin star restaurant), Coffee Collective (quality coffee roaster/cafe), Vanishing Point (a craft shop with handmade jewellery and artwork), Meyers Bageri (a very good Danish bakery) and gågrøn (a sustainable retail shop). We ventured through the lane and had coffee before a long lunch at Relæ.
I had been following Chef Christian Puglisi and his unique organic restaurant for almost two years. A typical meal orchestrates around wholesome vegetables from their own farm outside the city; meats & seafood from thoughtful local farmers/fishermen practicing sustainable methods; dairy bottled the night before it gets delivered to the restaurant in the morning; carefully selected equipments, table settings and even apron. Read more about their report here.
Romaine lettuce, plum sauce, red wood sorrel
lemon curd, yogurt, marigold
dark chocolate mousse; aubergine, white truffle, hazelnut praline
A casual, simple meal with graceful finesse, greeted with kind waitress/cooks. They spoil us with endless servings of sourdough bread & Sicilian olive oil throughout the course. Bread, which is made from their sister bakery, Mirabelle, just around the bend from Hans Tavsens Park on Nørrebrogade. In other words, there is no excuse for you not to take a slow stroll over and tuck into a warm loaf of sourdough bread or pizza at Bæst, or have a pint at Brus
But before that please drop by Mikkeller & Friends to enjoy some local craft beer, at the very corner of Husumgade. It’s as fresh as a first dew in the morning on the autumn flowers in the park.
Near the city centre, you will find a large food market selling everything from fresh produce to artisan chocolates and homemade masa tacos, Hija de Sanchez. Torvehallerne is an international affair waiting for people, both far and near, to devour themselves with gorgeous heartfelt food.
Down the street on Frederiksborggade towards the bridge, there is an authentic bakery, Naturbageriet. Heartfelt, gluten-free and vegan too. It’s classic wooden interior, simple retail racks and piles of baked goods by the window carry a modest atmosphere. It feels almost like visiting a grandparents’ home, which is precisely how the pastries tasted ~ unpretentious, wholesome and comforting. Perfect as a quiet companion during tea time.
In the city, walk along Gothersgade and into Atelier September to enjoy a Danish designer’s Jonas Trampedach collections and dine at the cafe. The clean and elegant art pieces, simplistic furniture and odd vintage decorations retain the nations personality.
Just as their design speaks character and substance, so do their meals. Rye bread with sliced fresh soft avocado and finely chopped chives, generous drizzle of olive oil, squeeze of bright lemon and sprinkle of salt. Sitting by the window facing the main road, I wonder if there could be anything more nourishing than this on a golden sunny afternoon?
More about Oslo in the next post.