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.
August 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
Baking this lovely cake is a ritual at our space. I remember meeting her family for the first time. They rolled up to our shop and was delightfully surprised that we had a gluten free option sweet for her son. Week after week, we became a weekend treat after their long family walks. Five years later, she is one of my closest friend and most inspiring woman I know.
When this came out from the oven yesterday, I knew it wasn’t my best. I had lost touch of the whisk, spatula, melting time, temperature and essentially, the kitchen. I haven’t been doing this for a long time and also felt so at home. How can one feel so lost at home? It takes a while to get myself familiarised with Gerard, Sam and Blu. I remember their particular manoeuvres. Holding onto the off/on button while reducing the speed; pressing one side of the mixing bowl down so that the whisk can ease into the egg whites better; never preset the temperature because he is always faster than you think.
All these familiaritires spoke closely to my heart. Afterall, 4 years of long hours in the same space, how could it possibly not?
I love being able to tell the story of a simple cake and how it brought us customers who became very close friends. I love being friends, forging bonds over simple meals and being their daily bread/coffee. Beyond these, I am also a home cook who is obsessed with tinkering ingredients, temperature, methods and re-adjusting recipes. “A little more salt for this today”,”a little more of that than that”, “that didn’t look like that before, why is it this way today?” There is a certain expectation we live up to. More often that not, we are our worst critic by putting ourselves down and then comparing to others. But truly we know that comparing ourselves isn’t as bad or good, until we are better than the last meal we cooked. The goal as a cook is to always be better than your last cake or dish.
A couple of days ago, I caught up with a friend where we spoke closely about being authentic and drawing positive energies. It is so easy to get sucked by naysayers or the rat race. While we are obsessed with what the media portrays and how we should live our lives vicariously through theirs, we also unwillingly blend into the social norm. So what if we are a no reservation place or do not believe your gossips about this other person you are talking about? Perhaps if we all have an open mind or heart about the next thing we hear of something new or old, we could all be better for ourselves and others too.
Here is to “not living to the status quo, giving unconditional love and having the courage to be your authentic self”.
I am leaving this country, again. Yes this time its full throttle, no visa drama and just left with packing. It feels a little bit like how Nancy Silverton left Canpanile. A year ago, that relationship didn’t work and someone had to go; so I left, even when I wasn’t ready to leave emotionally. It was the lost of the space that made me a little hollow. I had no idea what to do, so I travelled, did odd jobs and found home ground somewhere else. I’m still on this journey. One thing I learnt this week about being yourself, be daring enough to pissed people off.
Want a beer?
*oh yes, we named our equipments*
July 23, 2017 § Leave a comment
Here is a quick one.
I love food and am surrounded by it all the time. I nibble. I talk about food, after food; I write about food years after having that memory at a dining table; I recreate a dish with a full belly. I even have a nick-name, squirrel for always gathering ingredients and putting them in my mouth.
But more than food, than writing, than photography, I have another love ~ music.
I will spend hours reading up on a band and the producer/director/recording studio. Then listen to other similar artists, look up their history and personalities, how they all grow along with one another and fall out or make up.
Recently, I’ve been a little obsessed with The Defiant Ones. Jimmy Iovine, you are a genius. Thank you for bringing Patti Smith, Dr Dre and too many more amazing artists to our lives. He founded Interscope , a music studio which brought us John Lennon’s single, U2, and till today, Eminem & Aloe Blacc. Since James Mangold’s Walk The Line of Johnny & June Cash, this is perhaps one of the best music documentary I have seen.
Another recent favourite recording is The National’s new track, Guilty Party recorded by La Blogothèque (a brilliantly talented videographer, Vincent Moon) produced by PitchFork.
It’s nobody’s fault
No guilty party
I just got nothing, nothing left to say
It all, all just catches up to me
It all, all catches up to me all the time
July 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
We don’t talk about it. We avoid it. We are afraid of it because the world we are in build us up to be strong and good.
What is strong and good?
The last week has been an absolute struggle. After taking a few days off to be on the yoga mat, coming back to this island seems like scalding myself with hot water. Ever since then, I have been the nursing the wounds. The time on the mat appears to have taken a thick layer of skin and exposed, vulnerability.
I went to bed last night with a heavy heart. I have done what most insomniacs would tell you not to do: read on your phone. But as I read that one of Sydney’s most acclaimed chef, Jeremy Strode, has taken his own life; I kept the screen open and gave a deep thought about my own.
Early this week, I have been going through an emotional rollercoaster. I have been mostly upset about the work attitudes, society misconceptions, health ignorance and the hustle. As I explored the feelings and thoughts, usually through breaking down on a yoga mat or on the way back home listening to a melancholy tune, I realised it stemmed from rejection.
Much earlier this month, I have been rejected by a group of people that I trusted-wholeheartedly. The betrayal feels painful. I had devoted myself into something hopeful, with time and heart. Corporate, as they say. Chopping off the tree trunk and cutting the chase.
This week felt lonely. I wasn’t alone mind you. I am surrounded by physical beings everyday and have people around. But there is a difference being in a room full of people and feeling lonely at the same time. We, hospitality folks, work long and odd hours. We sacrifice family/friends time to earn a living and feed other peoples’ friends and families. At the end of the day, we are left with our group of kitchen family and our real family, who are often asleep already or too tired to deal with our emotions/tiredness. Our kitchen family changes, because not everyone can deal with the pressure and work culture. The line cooks and servers replace themselves like the next music charts every month. When you finally realised this and turn to your own friends, they have already forgotten about you and booked their own next vacation.
A few days ago, a high school friend felt the need to apologise for asking about my work life. She mentioned that I was apprehensive in my replies. “I have been in this industry for ten years, I am constantly on the dining floor, my replies are short because I am engaging with customers and sometimes holding a hot pan”, well I didn’t text the later part but you get the idea. “You are right I should have known better”, she said politely.
But I knew by then, there was already a misunderstanding and un-returnable damage. Years of not being there (for them) and years of not understanding (for me). So after service is done and dusted, there left the individuals who return to their devices and talk to loneliness. It is no wonder depression is such a taboo and yet, profound culinary issue. It is no wonder that chefs like Benoit Violier, who ended his own life after not achieving another Michelin star and Jeremy Strode, drown themselves passionately into cooking because they don’t know otherwise.
Admittedly, I have changed. I have became tirelessly exhausted, a little more impatient (just a little) and also more aloof with meeting up. I have also felt nonchalant when people don’t have time to reach out, but also have high expectations of closed ones to empathise with my work schedules. How can they meet? Well they do, behind the line, where we stand for hours, the emotions meet. There is a certain drive that we have and love for being in the service industry, which makes us feel whole. When a dish is made perfectly, presented on the table at the right temperature, paired with a right beverage and enjoyed as it should be. There is something magical when the crew is in sync, where everyone knows their roles, follow one another’s movements and no one is sloppy. The evening is played out like an orchestra in its element. The right notes are precisely hit simultaneously and timely. There is nothing like a perfect dinner service. It is a melody.
For us, well perhaps just me, I endeavoured to seek this tune over and over. I could replay it, improve it and play it night after night. For most chefs or restaurateurs, when they find the right people/food/dishes, they yearn to recreate, experience this fine moment and share it with the world.
I woke up today, feeling a little better. There are creases in what I do and have, yet there is joy at taking a step at a time. For this road and push is lonely, but we should talk about it. We should be able to create an environment for one another who share the same sentiments with food & service, and also be able to be open about our happiness and sorrows. If its being strong and good, I strive to be the same with empathy and kindness.
Let’s start talking.
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.
June 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
This week went by tougher than the usual. It is still dark outside with the sun refusing to shine. I just had the most complete 8 hours sleep I probably had in a few weeks. Yet with this exhaustion, I can’t go back to bed again. So it’s back to this page, a side plate of three different breads and a big pot of barley soup with orange peel.
I started a sourdough starter a couple of days ago. It is alive. The little yeasty bubbles have made itself notice with a sour scent and growing quite slowly. The good bacterias are having fun inside the little yellow pot. So last night, I attempted to bake a loaf and it failed quite nicely.
The thing about bread making, I’ve realised, is that it reads your mood. It requires attention, love and care. Like anything else, when it doesn’t get it. It just rejects all form and turn out bad. Yesterday’s bread turned out quite flat and nonchalant. It tasted a little yeasty, which gave a quite bite of joy. The crust is not dark enough but the layer formed quite quickly. The inside is moist and sticky like it is meant to be.
The moments prior to the baking session were a blur. I have been getting migraines, a high fever and flu. Perhaps its the hot/wet weather, perhaps it has just been a long week at work or just bad timing. Closed ones have been too busy to catch up or spend time. Somehow distance make it hard to be in sync. Sometimes you wait for the right moment or stay up, but ends up to a night of just pillows and blankets. Sometimes its just wanting a little help when one could barely hold the head up right. I had prepare the dough two days before and wanted to call it off. But the second I opened my door, I could smell the yeastiness. How could one simply turn away that call?
I knew it wouldn’t be ideal and still went for it. There is a baker stubbornness inside that loaf that seems to be prevalent. While comparing three breads side by side, I find a vast difference in each character. A sourdough from San Fran, full of life and still chewy after sitting in the refrigerator. A normal walnut loaf, dry and yet quite flavourful. Then there is mine.
There are fundamental signs when you push the limits, they don’t take them too well. The fever. The flat bread. Perhaps next time, the sourdough and I will catch each other on a better day. As for the little starter, it is hibernating in a corner of the refrigerator.
June 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
“If you read stories, you get to see the entire world. And not just the stories you find in books and film, but the stories of strangers sitting next to you on the subway or in an ordinary restaurant. You can find the world in your own story, too – you just have to keep your eyes open.”
― Steve Dublanica, Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip-Confessions of a Cynical Waiter
I remember reading Waiter Rant, right after culinary school. It was the soft cream that finished off a simple butter cake. Something I looked forward to at the end of every shift as a pastry cook in a small French/Californian restaurant of 5th Ave at Santa Monica. He wrote about his observations around the restaurants and his life as a waiter. I admired his audacity to speak out in an invincible voice for the large group of us who went unnoticed behind the line. I adored the way he reflected on society’s perceptions of the service industry. Though they were mostly, rants, they were truths.
They say the truth sets you free. In many ways, they do. But truths are like art pieces, which beauty lies in the perceptions of the beholder. In a place of ranks or solitude, one looks through their own glass to define what is and not. In many ways, the truth doesn’t set you free. The present moment does. I could tell you that the slice of cake is awfully bad for you and you could jolly well believe me because that is the truth to you right at that moment. Does that set you free? No, it holds you down with guilt and displeasure. But if you accept being in the moment, you would have been honest enough to yourself that the slice of cake is bad and the awareness would bring you nothing but peace.
I have kept a resilient heart and soul with the adventures. Something to keep me absolutely grounded at this moment is being with the greater crew. Everyday I learn something new about them and how we can be better for ourselves. No one stands alone and do well for him/herself. You got to find something good out of them and encouraged their strengths. For the sandless ocean bay community, I’ve grown to find some friends which share common grounds.
I have given up defining or stereotyping things/people/events. The world is too big of a place for us to narrow everything into corner stones. The moments we live daily is truly what we have and can only sincerely appreciate them when they are accepted fully.
Sometimes on my off days, I visit one of my favourite parts of this island. In many ways, we grew up eating these little ang ku kuehs during tea time or after school. You can find them in the corner snack stall in our canteens and at a local bakery on the way home. There is a particular kueh-kueh stall at my parents’ hometown in Taiping, Malaysia, which makes the softest and most fragrant traditional ang ku. While I reminisce those little moments, we have moved on to a different culture. Back in the big city where locally roasted coffee is proudly served in little neighbourhoods and traditional bakes are still integrated our daily lives. We are redefining coffee moments. A Colombia El Mirador and Kenya Kagumoini brew with mung bean paste wrapped in glutinous rice pastry at our favourite coffee shop.
Ji Xiang Confectionery
Blk 1 #01-33 Everton Park,