August 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
It has been barely 24 hours since I touched down, my head is still lingering in a heritage sphere. One would wonder how deep an impression a city would make after a couple of days. How my feet remembers the little lanes between a main street, or how my heart allows the scent of cumin spices to pursue the next dining destination, exploring the preserved local architecture, or simply just letting the island’s indecisive weather depict our routines.
Penang has always had a special place in my heart. As a younger family, we would visit relatives and friends over the holidays or special occasions. All other random visits would either be a result of serious food cravings or missing good company.
This trip emerged slowly. We had no plans for anything but to spend quality time together. We spent the days mostly sleeping in till unlikely hours and waking up to local food on the table. An array of char kway teow(fried wok-hei filled noodles), steamed local sweet corn, nyonya kuehs (sweet treats), freshly sliced pineapples and homemade kopi. Then we would head to Hin Bus Depot, an old bus depot turned art exhibition centre, for yoga, a photography event/workshop or a walk around the flea market.
The flea is filled with artistic vendors, recreating traditional prints, clothing, food with new materials or homegrown products. A nasi ulam stand calls for own grown ulam (herbs), freshly folded into turmeric rice and sprinkled with tempeh crumbles. A bookshop decorated with old tiles painted with images of historical sites and calligraphy stationary sets. At this point of the day, I am already feeling spoiled with an abundance amount of good food and great company in an immensely enriching environment.
A kefir soda maker and her daughter who manages the art space behind; a graphic designer turned bartender/cook who runs the retail shop, The Swagger Salon; local beer brewers, Red Door ; Wholey Wonder, vegan/yoga studio; and the resident cat, Eugene.
Where was I when all these home-grown talents were transpiring?
Somewhere at the other side of the world, searching for answers to questions I yearned to understand.
How do we make ourselves relevant to society? How do we preserve what we have and still change what is needed? What is needed?
All things are relevant. All these are subjective to its own usage. Money. Materials. Time. Distance. Food. Clothing. Art. Car. A house. They all mean something to us fundamentally but conjured up different interpretations.
I used to think that having three meals a day was a necessity. But realised we could make our own eating choices without looking at our watches but simply by asking ourselves, are we hungry?
I used to believe that growth is tearing things apart and letting new materials take over. But learnt that growth can start from understanding what the past gave us and using new materials to help preserve its authenticity, without damaging or hindering what the original maker had intent for it to be. Now that’s, craft.
Some evenings were spent dining out but when circumstances allowed, I could feed the family. One of my favourite family meals dishes comes from Nigel Slater’s first Kitchen Diaries. I initially made this as a psychology student in Leeds. We had a big house party with young college students, which called for simple finger food and cheap beers or cider. This time, Lemon Peppercorn Roasted Chicken Wings were paired with sautéed seafood, fried rice and pork rip soup. A rather intimate and slow affair compared to the youthful days. We also took the chance to bake cakes for tea. A staple Grapefruit Yogurt loaf and vegan Chocolate Banana Walnut brownie. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them its dairy & egg-free. I couldn’t bring myself to understand how rich and moist that loaf was. It was perhaps the best vegan chocolate cake I’ve ever concurred. They say, wisdom comes with age. Perhaps, baking experiences are the similar, so to speak.
On a sleepy Sunday, I woke up early and followed his mum to the local ban san (a hokkien slang for wet markets). We walked around the busy street with vendors trying to get our attentions, buyers grabbing fresh produce, ingredients, snacks, and so forth. I stumbled upon an old bakery, where they still use their barehands to fold wet cake batters, proof breads and use margarine for nostalgia.
I stood at the counter too long to their likings and observed them manoeuvre from counter to counter. Their quick punching on proof doughs, prudence in tipping breads out from hot pans and carefully wrapping cooled pastries were so well orchestrated. I wonder how long they have been doing this. I wonder how many times the lady had asked me what I want when I lost all awareness while in the baker’s trance. She finally grew impatient, and left me alone. I continued staring gleefully at the perfectly season deck ovens, stainless steel trays and arrays of pastries. How long have we been doing this in our own backyard and yet search for greener pastures to create trends? Have we grown impatient or bored of ourselves? How does creativity prevail while we have little appreciation for authenticity or simple craftsmanship?
The food we eat these days has heritage. It is nostalgic for the flavours, textures and environment. But the food we ate, sometimes have little nutritional values. We were cultured to adapt to this because we were at war or perhaps not so well informed. While I go on commenting about how we should take care of our own well-being, I sometimes wonder if I should stop caring. For people don’t care what they put in their bodies and when I say too much, it isn’t well-received.
A little sadness sank in that evening. Sitting outside staring on the quiet streets, asking myself how can we continue to educate or bring awareness when people don’t want to? Because being ignorance is blissful and we could continue living in a egomania society, breading excessiveness and immorality.
I always say, how you do one thing is how you do everything. Pour enough sauce for your salad or chee chong fun; buy one not take advance of buy two get one free (there is no need); take what you need and leave what you don’t. Our heritage is narrowing, because our education is advancing without teaching ethics or mindful-living. I feel grateful for meeting passional collective individuals on this trip. A little light to capture essence of hopes for a better community.
July 10, 2017 § 1 Comment
I’ve been on the move. We’ve been on the move. Where BakeAnything has always been perceived as a personal blog about baking (well, anything) it has also been an avenue for me to pen down my deepest thoughts. How could it not? Food and my heart share the same space. As much as I would to hate/love to deny it, I’m proud of this journey.
But this time, I’m taking a step further beyond food and words. I’m going to share with you my yoga practice.
My first hatha yoga class was in 2008. It was also my first time as a waitress and the practice was introduced to me by my mother. I enrolled myself into a 6 months class. 10 years later, I’m still on this journey. Yoga was a form of soft exercise. A long stretch after the day, a meditative restorative release for the soul and a space for breath.
Breathing, a primary source of life and so often secondary to our thoughts.
Last week, my partner and I took a little break from our daily routines and escape to the Laos mountains. We ended up in Nam Ou river, where dawn mists fall gently on the tips of the mountain, little birds greet you from a far morning wake up call and they both meet the sounds of a river water flowing.
Being able to detach our human bodies from the hustle, our focus naturally turn inwards. The rhythm of our breathes slow down, our shoulders are softened and foot steps are lighter. When there is an awareness between our respiration and mind, our practice becomes effortless. A harmonious connection of both conscious breath and mental state is vital.
In our daily lives, we perhaps do not excuse ourselves enough to bring consciousness in our breathing. How often do we sit in silence and give out a deep sigh? Or hear someone take in a heavy breath when they are faced with something stressful? Do we not realise that it comes with a certain set of mental state? Anxious, happy, or calm?
To begin yoga, one has to first learn about pranayama. It is a sanskrit word of prana (life force or breath) and ayama (extension). I remember sitting at the top of a mat with our legs comfortably crossed and watching myself breathe. Isn’t it odd to attend a class that teaches you how to do something so natural? If we all need yoga instructors to teach us how to breathe, we might as well head into the delivery room and watch a baby’s first breath. Well perhaps not, since it will be filled of cries instead. But perhaps, watching a baby sleep peacefully in a cradle. The little lungs expand and contract gently, so sound and tranquil.
Should we bring awareness to sleep and awakened breathing, there comes a greater sense of consciousness. At this stage, you are at the most creative, gaining insights to truths, or receiving light. I personally find this moment rather comforting and addictive. After a yoga practice, I am not only physically better, my soul & mind are lifted and refreshed. We have experienced this moment before. After a long run, a good game fight, a rush through traffic etc. Where the mind is actively engaged and engrossed that when it leaves the moment, it returns to a stage of “normalacy”.
Asana, the physical part of yoga carries a similar conscious approach.“Posture becomes perfect when the effort to attain it disappears, so that there are no more movements in the body.” The stretches, folds, bending and transformation from one pose to another are challenging. It is an effort to bend the knees and straighten the back; stretch the arms while keeping the core tight; all these while observing the breath. When our rhythm of breathing remains consistent, so will our postures and practice. Everything will come together, just as one.
Pose begins when you want to leave it.
What does that even mean? It’s much like saying, food begins when you leave the restaurant. One wouldn’t imagine that can we? But it is somewhat relevant in many ways that our experience with food retains when we remove ourselves from the place. The poses in yoga symbolise our way of life, just as our breath with the mental state of mind.
It was a wobbly start. I admired the experienced practitioners and mimicked them behind closed doors. I fell countlessly while trying hard to get it “right”, then fall again. It is fun watching yourself fall when no one is seeing you. It isn’t as embarrassing but as the saying goes. That is where your consciousness kicks in. Why do you even judge yourself? Yoga is a reflection of your state of mind. Watch your practice and observe your thoughts.
Through my journey, I carry the same heart off the mat. Here are some views:
Judgements. It is so easy to judge yourself when you’re on the mat. That you are not good enough or as good as others. When we always view ourselves as inadequate as we are on the mat, we ultimately fail. It isn’t that we are so, it is what we pre-judge ourselves to be. Take the judgy pants off, buy a new pair that screams confidence.
Intention. At the beginning of a class, the instructor will always tell us to set an intention. Gratitude. Let go. Being present. A dedication. It is then sealed and manifested as we carry on our practice. At the end of the practice, we bring awareness to the intention again. Whether it was actively carried out or not, it sets the tone to our practice. Like anything I act on, I set an intention or dedication. With that mindset, I remind myself to stay positive and steadfast to the action. More often than not, you are more likely to be happier with yourselves.
Flow Haven’t we’ve been here before? Stop resisting, go ahead let it go. Go with the flow. Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. So why allow your own thoughts to hinder you from adventures and surprises? Why are you so attracted to expectations? Let go of those that do not serve you any purposes. Accept.
Present From Julie, who always reminds us when we are in our shavasana pose ~ there is nothing left for you to do. Well then, this is exactly where we are meant to be. Find the sweet spot and breathe.
I am a little stronger and more balanced these days. My practice is not always the same: some are more challenging than others; some are more relaxing than the usuals. They are an opposite to the energy surrounding the day. A hectic day would need more ying, a quiet day would have more inversions and sometimes HIIT workout. It is a good combination of counterbalancing practices.
No matter what it consists of, it will always have one element ~ gratitude for showing up on the mat.
April 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
This week has been a long ride. There were undeniably questions of how long can one trust the process, how honest are we to ourselves and etc. Well, it shouldn’t be that doubtful but the energiser bunny’s battery level was depleting.
I had spent an insatiable amount of time with food (more than the average joe). I eat it, I write about it, I research it, I plan other people’s meals, I cook/bake/alter etc. I could go on until the cows come home. After a while I start viewing it not as a mean but either a form of art or business/passion. One could have a bad relationship, just like spending too much time with one person and you could end up wanting space. The roles are mixed up and somehow along the way, the respect or trust can be lost.
There was a time where I wasn’t very proud of myself and the relationship with food turned sour. I lost all interest with eating/cooking. I was frail, insecure about my decisions and was pretty low. Tired of feeling so exhausted all the time, I took the step to take responsibly of my own well-being. It started with preparing meals at home, buying groceries, salads, making sandwiches, changing white rice to brown rice and eating less processed/refined junk. I brought food wherever I went. There was really no excuse of “oh I can’t find healthy food”,because I was prepared. It was then I realised that if you could take ownership of your own health then why can’t you do the same with the other aspects of your life? We often victimise ourselves into bad situations but don’t we all fall short to see that the situation is negative, because we allow ourselves to let it be.
So my friends can have a bowl of deep-fried tofu/fishballs in chicken stock curry egg noodles while I have mixed rice, sautéed vegetable with fresh salad leaves. They can make fun of the diet, they can decide not to hang out, they have chosen to order more vegetables, they have taken notice of their own diets and some have even wrote to me how I’ve changed theirs. Somehow I am thankful for those that have been more aware of themselves. As much I would love to say, you are what you eat, you truly are, how you eat. If you are the sort that eat chicken breast and can’t run a mile, you are that piece of meat as it is. If you are the sort that takes time to enjoy marinating the piece of meat and have it with brown rice sautéed in garlic or oriental greens, perhaps you would learn to appreciate a different side of life. After all, people who love to eat are always the best people.
Soba noodles with ceylon spinach: Veggie Stack, replicated from an original tofu veg stack made by a best friend from Canada who loves his bacon way too much for his own good
With the people who loves food, comes with different sort. Eating is an intimate activity. Perhaps this is why there are people we constantly declined to be on the same table with and those who are always there when we have our daily staples.
I came home late last evening after hours in the kitchen, just in time for dinner and enough time to bake for the next morning. I reflected on these thoughts of how food has altered my way of lives and those around me. I thought of how small I am in making a change and how much more I want to be. More change soon to come but for now, here is a vegan, gluten-free banana bread made with chia seeds, walnut powder, sorghum flour and coconut oil. I am leaving out the recipe for another day.
March 25, 2017 § Leave a comment
no second clock
The start wears the purest form of Mother’s Nature beauty. The air is crisp and clear. The breath carries an innocent whiff and exhale itself into the atmosphere. Bringing truth to a better light.
The prelude bears clarity and serenity. It is simple to feel. It resonates a silence smile a new born carries. It grows like a seed nurture into a tree. It brings waves to the ocean. It becomes.
A few weeks ago, I started a new journey. And like all new beginnings, it came with a closure. I ended my short stay in Yangon. The departure was inevitable. The differences seem to match like puzzles pieces, forming an unforeseen picture. Coming back to the island was only natural, and it seems like another new start after another, yet this time, everything seems to be aligned.
But before returning, the yoga community in Yangon invited us for a retreat at a beach town 6/7 hours away from the city. It took no hesitation for me to say yes. So off I went to another short excursion.
Ngwe Saung lies on the west side of Myanmar and has the front row seat to the Bay of Bengal. Since it is the best view, it would almost be a dishonour to hold our practice anywhere else but.
Every morning, I arrived sheepishly at the open hallway. We start our day with a short meditation and an hour of vinyasa flow. As we meditate in the quiet, flashes of past memories come flooding their way through. Some were hurtful, some were very joyful and between the both, there were collisions of your own thoughts trying to play tug of war. Where should I fall? Where should you place your emotions? What is the outcome of falling into it? Can i get something out of this?
“A man’s power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth, and his desire to communicate it without loss.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson
My perception of truth lies in the depths of how honest I am with myself. It wasn’t so difficult to be at peace with myself anymore. Unlike previous struggles, this was different, it was genuinely rediscovering my own strength and knowing where my limitations lie. With that said, the practise has became somewhat easier with a clearer head space. It’s as if I have decluttered my own brain and made way for some physical strength and serious alignments.The lighter one feels the lighter the body is.
“The body is smarter than your brain.” We often outwit ourselves with pushing the limits. Can we stretch the calves an inch further during a downward dog? Can we hold in a three legged dog half a minute longer? Let’s try to extend the arms a little higher but soften the shoulders deeper on a lunge.
There wasn’t a moment where I didn’t want to just ease into a pose. I want to engage each reflexes with poise yet gain the resilience and flow with my heartbeat. The mat has become a place for comforts and challenges simultaneously. The union is like two friends meeting one another, the twilight moon meeting the sun right before it reaches the horizon. An occurrence we fail to witness yet happens everyday.
The best part about rediscovering yourself is finding same kindled spirits who share the same perception. While we came from all walks of life, no culture, religion, race and gender differentiate us, one way or another, we meet at the mat and breathe the same air. Evenings were spent at cocktail bars laughing over Yangon life. The little inglorious daily activities that make the city unique to its own. Bad traffic, unhygienic manoeuvres, discrepancies and so on. One that seems so foreign to a life I live this moment.
I’m back in the +65 region again, with a new job, but still hanging out with my crazy kitchen crew and exploring a deeper relationship. Somehow everything seems to work out the way it ought to be just as it should, with time.
My current new boss is quite obsessed with fried shallots(eu chang,葱头油) . An asian delicacy and staple to any meal. Fried shallots on steamed fish, nasi lemak, fried shallots on plain rice, shallot oil is also used very frequently in garnishing any salads or finishing off a simple stew to enhance the flavours and brings a crisp texture. It’s something little but goes a long way.
After this morning’s workout, I bought some kale on my way home and immediately thought of tossing some in for a quick lunch salad.
Kale, cashew cheese, cherry tomatoes, quinoa and fried shallots. Happy weekend folks
February 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
There is something special about going back to a vicinity you were born in. A connection of past and present colliding, a series of flashbacks, a solemn quietness and a rejoiced smile for realising the miles you’ve clocked.
A couple of days ago, my mum and I made our way to KL for her company reunion dinner. They were the pioneer crew for an airline company and made their way to the top in the Asia region, by working hard as a team. The diligent long hours in the office, perseverance to be resilient during bad times, occasional disputes followed by forgiving drinks after, setting goals and achieving them have made the bond so closed. Till 20 years down the road later, they still feel like one.
We had arrived at our first Airbnb (That is another story to tell,she was so skeptical! )and walked into the concrete jungle.
Remember how i used to wait for you in the office and we head home together?
Oh look, we used to have drinks over there. Oh geez, that new pub looks terrible.
Mum, remember we always have those little colourful kueh kueh from the macik there? *pointing to the corner near the traffic light*
Those days, were quite gone but memories have a way of capturing our hearts and make us reminisce.
The small reunion dinner felt the same. Everyone spoke of how they were forced to wear suits and coats in the tropical weather, the surbodinates sabotaging one another with corporate politics and of course, the travels.
At some point through dinner, I realized why I love traveling and how I feel in love with it. Mum was constantly surrounded by travel agents, and I was constantly surround by them. I was the little photocopy girl in the office tipping toes over the machine buttons. She gave me little projects to tie calendars, stickers, notebooks and flyers together. The words such as “outbound”, “inbound”, “via LAX” were imprinted my head. The world map projected widely on the walls of the office, eventually moved to my bedroom wall.
Our family holidays were rather ad hoc. An 8 hour drive up to Penang, a 13 hours flight to England, occasional last minute getaway to Hong Kong, a few days hiatus to the Eastern Peninsula Malaysia just so we can get childish feet beneath the brown sands. The wanderlust in me seek for adventures, “in-the-moment” instances, put myself out of the box and eventually formed a free spirited soul.
For the last two weeks, we have been on the road, stayed in a tiny hotel, took a plane to KL and stayed in our first Airbnb; then I took a long bus ride up north, she flew in later, we stayed in multiple relative homes, ubered our way through cities; we parted ways again, and I just got off a 6 hour journey from Malaysian to Yangon.
Our friends have said they can’t catch up with our lives. Sometimes, I cannot too. We are hardly at home but when we are, we become homebodies. The apartment is our little sanctuary of mindfulness and slowing down. We do not get out for days.
I have spent the last few years, getting to know the world, learning about partners and building communities but I have failed to learn one very important person. Myself. How much we have grown into the person we are because of our up bringing; what we need in a relationship, career, a home or even ourselves come from fundamentally the people we grow up around.
Life has its own ways of giving you things you want but making you fight for it. Have you ever asked for patience but find yourself in a line for donuts? Have you ever asked quiet but all you hear is noise? Well next time, if you want something ask yourself if you can handle the opposite. Chances are, you are already standing right in front of it.
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 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
To say that MADFEED was an amazing experience would be an understatement. Rewind almost a year ago, I stopped working full time at the local restaurant. I have always been associated with the job I had and somehow it had integrated so much into my life that I lost my own soul. What is my soul? Was it a food writer/vegan avocate/coffee snob/yoga lover/traveler?
Through the years, I persisted on doing what sings to the tune of my heart. A cup of handmade brewed coffee, an hour long session of ashtanga yoga five times a week, 13 hours work day, juggling writing a cookbook, and so on. The list continues as I pile more things on in search for something meaningful to satiate this large appetite.
I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t full either. I just wasn’t satisfied. I had always thought that in order to make the best chocolate cake, it needed the best cocoa powder. I had always thought of using local produce but there wasnt anything local farmers that would entertain our daily consumptions. I also used to think there needed to be more local yoga studios that didn’t cost a hole in my wallet. Generally, I needed to be part of a community with a more holistic & environmentally friendly appraoch lifestyle. A SoCal lifestyle I had just left and couldn’t find in sunny Singapore.
Unwinding the clock, 4 years later. I am finally settling in. My mindset has shifted to intergrating my own lifestyle and creating a space for a better tomorrow.
What is the better tomorrow? What is Tomorrow’s Kitchen? At the event, we questioned ourselves what could we do better for the next generation or even ourselves. Business, community, creativity, leadership, sustainability etc. But before we moved on to building a better tomorrow, we needed to know our history. I was so grateful when slow food founder Carlo Petrini spoke:
“Cooking has to be, first and foremost, the act of love.”
The basic fundamentals of giving unconditionally, being patient and trusting the process. Remember the very essentials of making a good loaf of bread? Good flour, salt, fresh yeast, clean water and an enormous serving of patience.
Jacques Pepin, opened the event by impressing us with his effortless skills in deboning a chicken for a galantine.
“You have to know your trade. You have to repeat things long enough that you can afford to forget them”
and he did it, quite very much like brushing his teeth.
Jason Hammel, from Lula cafe, giving a talk about Change isn’t Cheap: the sustainbility of food industry.
The idea of slogging for hours in the kitchen and repeating the same techniques until you are bored out of your wits scare new cooks away. The new comers are so impatient with old school cooking, most of them just stand around getting distracted with their phones or taking a smoke outside. Owning a skill takes years, understanding the trade, perhaps will take a lifetime but that is not a destination, it is a journey.
During one of the ad hoc sessions, Aisha Ibrahim started a topic: Millenial chefs. Our idea of millenials in any trade is often a negative connotation(lazy, spoiled). But we spoke openly of the difficulties seasoned chefs faced teaching millenials; in hopes that we can learn from one another, so we can pass on a similar act of love to the next generation. Afterall, aren’t we here to make a point?
Team bonding, dynamics, repetition, discpline and crafting.
The more I sit on these words, the more I believe in the process more than the end product. Of course, we are here to entice our palates and senses with a beautiful dish, (which by the way, Michel Troisgros spoke at MAD5, his family invented plating!) To what avail do we stretch the process until there is no soul in the meal?
I have since stopped searching for a perfect this or that; or worry about not making ends meet. My perception had taken a momentous shift. If we look too far ahead, or too far behind, we cannot enjoy the moment. We start losing the soul of the journey, taking short cuts, going too fast, losing steam and eventually, burning out (which was also another topic at MAD5, Kat Kinsman started a group @chefswithissues)
I did reach that point, after being in this industry for 10 years. I stopped functioning. I took a break and travelled. One day, MADFEED opening came up and I applied. The evening I found out about the acceptance was after a 13 hours shift (one can never fully take a break from the kitchen #dontkidyourself ) I laid in bed with aching feet and opened my inbox. Sadly, I was too tired to feel excited and it only hit me the next morning that a few months later I would be here. Here, penning down this experience in a Scandinavian Airbnb apartment with the sunsetting at 7 in the evening.
I left the city on my birthday. It was perhaps the best birthday gift to myself. A fulfiling trip and pivitol event in a chefing career. Perserverance, resilience, push boundaries and follow your actions throughly. You know the feeling of waiting for a breakthrough? All your eggs in the basket, the right time, the right place. Yes, that moment came. I met the best chefs in the world and dug their brains. The best personal encounter was meeting Dalia Jurgenson, writer of Spiced. I read her personal memoir in culinary school and never imagined to meet her in reality. So when she introduced herself in the boat on the way to Refshalebassin, I kept my excitement until we got off.
“Are you really Dalia from Spiced?”
She smiled quietly and acknowledged. She, along with the Jenny from Institute of Culinary Education and I spent the next two days having meals and sharing notes. She had inspired me to follow a somewhat similar journey, cooking in ktichens and eventually writing a book.
Of course. It was also fantastic getting acquinted with the folks from Koppi, Tim Wendelboe, JP from Aniar, Max from Momofuku, and to name a few… It came full circle, but this is just the begining.
The real work starts when we get back to our daily routines. How are we suppose to intergrate all talks into our walks?
As René said, “Why dont we take a couple of minutes to stop, to listen and to meet?“.
But after we meet, what are we to do? I took a long walk at a farmers’ market, bought some fresh local ingredients and retreated back to my own kitchen. I turned the gas oven on, and starting to chop up some long red beetroot, oval heirloom tomatoes and fresh chives.Sliced a few sourdough from Mirabelle and drizzle extra virgin olive oil, threw it in the oven along side with the beetroots and left them inside until they were done. Is this my version of tomorrow’s kitchen at home? Simple local ingredients put together to create a meal for one in a foreign land. There is no need to go out to dine as often but get inspired from the local farmers market, observing the different cultures and talk to people.
I noticed people stay in Airbnbs more often these days. Most of them equipped with a basic kitchen. I baked my host a loaf of chocolate avocado cake. So when she got back from Berlin the next evening, she would have something to welcome her home.
At my stay in Oslo, I visited a family friend and we spent most of our evenings, cooking. After I left, she was inspired to get better acquinted with her kitchen and local produce. Did you know warming up potatoes encourage sprouting? When the baby potatoes are done growing, they are picked before they grow into odd shapes because the Norwegian lands are mostly rocky? How does one stay in one place for decades and choose to ignore the surroundings, of farmers, of growers or food purveyors? Yet to have a foreigner come into your home and learn the unnoticed.
René also said, “It starts with one person”. It sure did in my case.
I have yet to return back to the sunny island. But for now, making a change with the way people eat starts with the right next to me.
Found fresh redcurrents in Helsinki Sunday market and spent the evening making jam. Now I can share it with my family!
Next post will be about the places I visited, well mostly ate around Copenhagen, Oslo, and Helsinki .