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.
May 27, 2016 § Leave a comment
also known as fermented soybeans. Before it was labelled as one of the world’s most sought after plant-based protein, this traditional soy product was a trademark in most of my Malay meals. Every Saturday evening, my parents would pay a visit to the local pasar tani (night food market) beside a football stadium. Arriving at 5 pm, we would consider ourselves lucky if we found a good parking spot. Most of the market would be filled with residences walking around, window shopping, buying cincau bandung (grass jelly in rose syrup) or ais limau (iced-lime juice) to keep the body cool or, for the rest of us, wait at the significant empty spot.
This spot is reserved for a very well-known family owned nasi campur (mixed rice) store. They served nasi lemak (coconut rice), nasi kerabu (blue pea flower rice), nasi biryani (turmeric-spiced rice), assorted curries (either lamb, beef, or vegetables), sambal telur (fried egg in samba, my personal favourite and you can find it in our cookbook), archar (nyonya pickle vegetable) and of course, sambal tempeh goreng.
Deep fried cubbed tempehs, fried in hot sambal with long beans and ikan bilis (anchovies) until the dish turns to maroon. Doesn’t it sound heavenly? Well, at least to me (even at 7 years old). Mum and I would squeeze our way through the crowd and wait for our turns. We would pick three types of rice, a few curries, and for me, sambal tempeh with a fat chicken drumstick and some archar. Then we would pick some kueh-kuehs (mostly coconut or tapioca steamed cakes) and iced soy milk.
When I visited a tempeh shop/factory in Gainesville, Florida, there really wasn’t any amusement. Perhaps only for the fact that there were no makciks behind the counter but young white late teenagers. The real eye-opener was at the vegan/vegetarian restaurants that served tempeh in sandwiches, salads, fried rice, stews and so on. My great friend was kind enough to drive us there for an unforgettable day trip before I left the East and headed West.
Now, I eat tempeh in every possible way. Fried, steamed, baked, boiled, and sometimes if it’s really very fresh, raw. The makcik (Malay auntie) at the wet market would sell it at RM0.30 for one lovely piece and proclaimed that it is as fresh as good yeast could get. Big soft warm leaves (hibiscus leaves) still slightly moist from the fermentation, a white fluffy velvety mould holding the beans together, nicely folded with newspaper and tied with a rubber band.
A beautiful nostalgic ingredient and a staple in our refrigerator.
February 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
We sat in a cafe near the Central Business District, high sky scrapers and people in office suits walking pass us as we spoke about our little idea and commongrounds. We brained storm on words and how to connect the dots. We told ourselves (23/01/2013) that this might make or break us, but gave it a shot. But it came about well, so well.
We are emotional beings. With attachments hard to separate from the past and present. With decisions based on sense or sensibility. Innate beings who take the next move even with preconscious based on the heart and thoughts. These were our trigger points to create something related with what we do daily, eating. Though some of us may not cook/bake daily, at some point we step into the zone of a stove, sink, and fridge. Perhaps making something for ourselves, to keep our bodies going or feeding someone special to put a smile on their face.
Elodie and I often share our experience of food and cooking. We love what we do daily with food (photography, shopping for ingredients, exploring cooking methods etc, feeding people and sharing). We wanted to draw the connection between food and moods to bring an awareness of how they are interdependent. We want to bring people together and share their experiences so we can learn from them and perhaps even cook a few dish or two.
So finally after two years of working on it, here is our work, Kitchen Stories.
We launched it in Kinokuniya Singapore on 14th Feb and got great support from family and friends. Thank you so much for everyone who turned up. I will be selling it at Necessary Provisions and Elodie will sell it on her website. It is also available on Page One and Bloesom .
My hopes for readers are that they understand what keeps them craving for the certain food, and making the same thing when they have that particular feeling or occasion. It is also that they look beyond the dish in front of them and take a deeper thought to how it came about. The person who made it, the way its been done and how it came together. They always say less is more, but truly, there is so much more than what is seem or may be. Happy reading,please drop us a line or two about your thoughts and your own kitchen stories.
July 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
I can’t budget for time like this. I do my best to prepare putting my heart where it needs to be, but I can’t rehearse it or perfect it. So much of life happens outside of our expectations and our preparedness. So much of life does not look perfect. – Rebecca Jessica Parker
It comes to a standstill. I have been waiting for this trip. When I finally board the flight, I couldn’t help but feel a weight lifted off my shoulders. Guilty ,because I left the crew to face the busy weekend, but excited to see B again.
There is only so much you can prepare, to look pretty, to feel fresh, to keep the heart light and greet with honesty. I have been traveling so much over the last few weeks, the teetered suitcase is still unpacked. The body recovers from heavy meals to another indulging meal & late night out.
But I feel at ease. I could put my feet up and feel comfortable in my own skin. The early hello to the sun, a late morning yoga session, light lunch, more walks & homemade dinner could not be more splendid. It is not always the case of let love and let go, but a matter of existence.
A few weeks in since we started the cafe, and everyone is worn out already. From the front of the house to the kitchen crew. The long standing hours kept us afloat with casual banters & silly laughters, but we are fatigued. Random glasses will be found in the corner of the kitchen, or an abandoned apron left on the chair, indicating the tiredness from last night’s busy service. I have dreams of missing an order or dropping a slice of cake, which both happened before. But as much as I want to be perfect at every element, I remember the little voice in my head going “breathe”.
These was the word I remember the most while working at the bakery in Orlando. With Katie it was always: let’s do our best, but remember to be present and be happy. It was simple but yet it was difficult. Meeting expectations & demands, composing a picture perfect cake almost too pretty to eat so a four year old child with gluten/peanut/soy allergies can enjoy her birthday in a little pink dress surrounded with concerned happy loved ones. And getting thank you notes from her parents for they thought she could never have another slice of cake again. The weariness easily dissipates into bubbles of joy illuminating our presence to time.
It’s with this constant reminder of appreciation, there is always extraordinary in the ordinary. A mocha for a dreary weather, a greeting from a regular through the glass window or perhaps even a snail mail.
Today was special. I got the loveliest wedding invitation card from Katie. Words cannot express how excited I am to visit her this fall but also for an extended trip up north. To add more icing to the cake, my little contribution for Books Actually’s Twenty-Four Flavours: Century Egg published.
July 3, 2013 § 5 Comments
People don’t appreciate beauty these days. They look at everything but they don’t really see. Who really looks at trees and sees their shapes and colours? They’re magic! That’s what it’s all about. – Brian Clough
Hole & Corner is a British magazine filled with stories of dedication, honouring craftsmanship across a broad spectrum of skillful talents. While reading it, I cannot help but fall in love with every passionate story. Each individual has a natural flare and pursue it with much panache.
From taking 12 months to make one pair of John Lobb shoes, owning a miller despite having an oat allergy, to using an ancient painting technique for modern art and still regard it as “ordinary“. It is the little sacrifices of time, with genteel understanding that makes them count.
It reminded me of the time spent by the aga during summer, sterilizing jars, cutting up stone fruits, listening to the birds sing and soaking up the soft sunlight in the late evenings. We made homemade jams with much joy and excitement, but the air of earnestness danced in opulence. I learnt her ways of stirring at the right time, adding the sugar at the precise temperature and skim it at the very very end. After being pampered with hearty jars, it is difficult to buy them off the shelves in stores. Not knowing who made them or where the fruits came from. I much rather mash a few berries and make a coulis for toast.
Every year I look forward to a trip to England, as I return back to Singapore with endless jars of jams & chutney. Or when a family member drops over and surprises me with some. A bottle of devotedness is simply irreplaceable with convenience.
As a baker, I make the daily bakes with much pride. Pride in being authentic, genuine and simply plain. It upsets me when the cake is half-eaten or left untouched. It annoys me when I see another baker taking shortcuts. It certainly does not add any icing to any glorious cake when it is too pretty to eat. Somehow, I believe in slowing down the pace, take two steps back to observe & learn from the daily craft I chose to admire, and lucky enough, to engaged in every day.
After all, as Lluís Lleó puts it “the lack of glamour is beautiful, no?”.
May 29, 2013 § 4 Comments
An accidental bake. I had wanted to make something else but had forgotten to write the ingredients in the grocery list. Having Deb Perelman‘s book in my hands, I stumbled upon the simplest ingredients and without a second thought, turned the oven knob on and rummaged into the refrigerator.
With the new space coming up, we have been testing a few recipes and getting the place together. I am enjoying the silent kitchen with construction noise behind thick walls. The cleanliness of our bare feet against spotless beige tiles. Unused porcelain still wrapped in newspaper tucked near the dishwasher, which is still adjusting to its awkward piping system.
For the cafe family, we are thrilled for the opening day. But the delay had costs much frustrations yet allows us to ease into the comforts of our new home. Already, we have a creative corner, the manager’s favourite chair, an habitual angle to lean on the wall and usual parking space. While there will be many more avenues for each of us to fall calmly into, it is already a great start.
Much like this cake, which was shared and enjoyed immensely, the day turned out unexpectedly lovely. Perhaps, perfecting our crafts, slowly taking our time to focus on shaping and molding, brings unadorned pleasant surprises. In turn, reflects individual personalities, understanding characters and working better as a family. Learning to be patient with time, with ourselves and one another.
recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
1 1/2 cups (190g) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (aluminum-free)
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup (60ml) whole milk
Soft Gooey Layer
1/4 cup (60ml) light corn syrup or golden syrup
1/4 cup (60ml) whole milk or heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (170g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/4 (155g) cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1. Line a 9- by 13-inch cake pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all four sides. (I overturn the pan, shape the foil over the bottom, remove it, then flip the pan over and ease the foil into the pan.) Spray the foil in the pan with nonstick spray or brush with melted butter.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
2. To make the cookie base, whisk together the 1 1/2 cups (190g) flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Beat the 8 tablespoons (115g) of butter and the 3/4 cup (150g) of sugar in the bowl of stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand, until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add the egg and the milk and mix in, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the dry ingredients, until fully incorporated. Put the mixture in the cake pan in dollops (it’s too thick to spread if you add it all in the same place), and spread it into an even layer with an offset spatula.
(You don’t need to clean the bowl; you can reuse it for the next step.)
4. To make the soft gooey layer, in a small bowl, whisk together the corn syrup or golden syrup with the milk or cream, and vanilla.
5. Beat the 12 tablespoons (170g) of butter with the 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225g) of sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
5. Add one-third of the 1 1/4 cup (155g) flour, then half of the milk/corn syrup mixture. Add another one-third of the flour, then the rest of the milk/corn syrup mixture. Then stir in the remaining flour. Dollop the batter over the unbaked cookie layer and spread evenly.
6. Mix together the 2 tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon, then sprinkle it evenly over the cake.
7. Bake the cake for 25 minutes, or until the cake feels slightly damp, but gently set in the center. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. When cool, lift out the cake using the overhang of the foil, and cut the cake into 1-inch (3cm) squares.
Note: Sharp-eyed folks might notice that my cake squares didn’t get as dark has hers, as shown in the book, which I attribute to a new oven which I’m still learning how to use. The cinnamon I ground was also not as fine as the finely ground cinnamon that you buy, so the pieces are more distinct, which also led to the tops of mine looking a bit different from hers. Regardless of any differences in appearance, it’s quite an amazing cake and I urge you to try it.
*coffee is from Nylon*
December 30, 2012 § 6 Comments
It’s the final day for the cafe, last week of the year. Sentimental feelings resonate memories made here. For every foot stepped through this door, is unique. Everyone comes in as a stranger, then served with an inviting cup of coffee or pint of beer, a slice of cake or perhaps a freshly pressed sandwich. After the meal, a friendship is made.
I recognize the faces, remember their orders, know the way they enjoy their coffee or cookie. Slightly acidic, a little stronger or weaker, whether they have their cookie or not. Everyone, at some point, enjoys undivided attention. Between, making sure the water pitcher is filled, oven timer hasn’t gone off, delivering every order, pouring milk into the already oxidizing espresso and making a pretty art, I am also, talking to a regular about her career plan after some soul searching.
At the other corner, there is a party of four. Their vibrant energy infuse into the space and created a laughter of nervousness. It seems that every cafe has a structure and we are deemed to transfix this into another space. So they wave furiously at me and demand attention. Attention, my dears are not to be demanded, if you need any, it should be purely courtesy. There is no “customers are always right” deal here. It’s a communal gathering. A damn congressional.
After I am done with cleaning the milk pitcher, I walked over. Sat on the chair with them and ask what can I do for them. As always, in awe that I sat down, they ordered politely. It seems we are on same eye levels and all of a sudden, tables turned.
Perhaps, any enlightened feeling of esteem in a person, is best gathered from mutual understanding. An understanding that food is ultimately fuel and the cook (that means your mother too) or group of people making it, should be treated the way you treat yourself or even better.
Many eateries leave gap, and the only way you connect with the stranger making your meal is through the food. If the food is good, you put a tip/note, sometimes lucky enough to even know who made it.
Here, I find the commandery has been striped down to bare minimum. That is the beauty.
Over the couple of months, I drank more espresso then the last 20 odd years of my life, witnessed some very awkward customers, ate way too much chocolate, laughed my heart out countlessly with the crew and made new heartfelt connections with charming people.
Though, many say they will miss us, I say, I will miss them more. A strong bond has forged and shall continue after this hiatus. A new space is in the offing.