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.
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.
June 8, 2014 § Leave a comment
The cafe is turning a year old soon. These days I find myself looking back at the photographs, recollecting moments building the space, testing recipes, helping to cement the floors, staying late with the crew, meeting new people and finally, to what it is today.
I remember unlocking the door wee hours in the morning and baked the first batch of muffins. The girls setting the coffee bar up and arranging the flowers as we wait for the customers. A few curious ones from the neighbourhood came by, our regulars from Henry dropped in to show support, so did our family and friends. We fed them our usual staples and other new dishes. Every opening day, we did the same thing to keep people happy with our simple ways of getting by.
Away from the hullabaloo of a city, there lies a cafe for individuals of all sorts sharing a meal or two at the table. Doing what they do as they like, spending them with good company, listening to lovely tunes, and indulging in anything honest and fresh. It is much adorn to remind yourself what is needed and return back to the basics.
I bake. That’s all I really do there. Baking sweet treats from dawn till mid afternoon. Then I carry on the day with yoga and writing, spend time with family and the cycle repeats. While it sounds so simple and pure, there are off days. Days when we get so packed, crap hits the ceiling. People demand for more, they want change, and are not use to the way we are. We become vulnerable to their dispositions and lose the bond.
Then there are instances where we connect in every level, spend more time knowing each other and start to nurture the sense of community. My supplier who drops off a bag of fresh apricots, just cause; the little girl who runs around the table before getting on the stool to eat her bowl of granola; the french toast and brew coffee lady who sits there the whole morning with an iPad and two cellphones; the family that brings everyone out to dine in the evenings, and have hot chocolate to beer & fried rice to sandwich. A community of characters.
Somehow, I did not intend to stay this long. I had put school on hold for this to grow and continue with life. Following the rhythm, and be present to being here has been difficult to accept. This island has always made me feel like a fish out of water, I found comfort in other lands and had planned to explore. Yet, things change, well to be honest, I found love. Unrequited, supportive and mad affection. Instead of pushing what I had help build or watched what it is today away, and finding thoughts to leave with every discomfort, I learn to grow and embrace.
James, who now lives in the north-west, call it “grounded perspective”. We were so naive to drive across country through the rush hour. We have slowed down since and are still looking for grounds that appreciate who we are. Afterall, isn’t it all we want in life is to feel appreciate by others? And be comfortable with ourselves?
This sentimental post perhaps will make you feel lost in space, but there is no other way to put how this past year has been for me. Currently, we’re just going to dwell in what we have, appreciate its form and make the most out of them.
February 28, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last lunar new year, I found a note between John Kerouac’s On The Road book. My late cousin had collected a series of his books and a few more of his favourite authors. Every year, we return back to my aunt’s house for a reunion meal. Every year, I stand in front of the shelves, picking up random books and flipping pages until it is time to go home.
It is not every year I get to spend time with my other cousins. E’s brother, Chong, who just returned from Thailand spent some nights with the family. The note, was for him and was “edited” by E. We thought the note was for Chong. But according to him, it wasn’t.
The past few weeks have been a little tougher than usual, I have been questioning life and the path I am on. What it entails and what it offers. The book, the cafe, the family and being in this country.
Two days ago, I visited the crematorium after a restless morning. I have had thoughts before but never got the courage to do so.Torn and heavy hearted I found the disturbed thoughts silencing themselves between the walls. It’s ironic how peaceful it can be around the eternal rest.
I walked out feeling a little more grounded and lifted inside. Another paradox in life, I cannot explain but only feel compelled to share.
This morning, Chong had surprised me with a message. He mentioned that the note was written when both of them had experienced love. That being in love “makes us see how wonderful life is”. Reminding me not to think so much but to enjoy it. Thus, was placed in On The Road. The note was meant for me. To show me that love and youth make life wonderful.
Chong calls this synchronicity, I believe it is too.
There are signs we can choose to ignore and paths we choose to take. But we can only follow the flow and find a rhythm that sings to our heart. Find that rhythm and make it your anthem.
Life must be rich and full of loving–it’s no good otherwise, no good at all, for anyone.”
― Jack Kerouac
We are still working on the cookbook. It is taking more time than we thought but we are working hard for it to be out by Christmas. This is a purple sweet potato cake with rosemary lemon syrup. Purple sweet potato has a dense floury texture and a rich tannin sweetness. It was really lovely with the fragrant rosemary and citrusy punch syrup. More recipe testing soon.
January 25, 2014 § 4 Comments
Our dinner celebrated the pre-launch of Nourish. After months of contemplation, we finally have a name for it! We had prepared food using recipes from the cookbook, shared how we met, our inspirations and how we got to this point. The book entails food stories and mood recipes. It illustrates an interconnected relationship between food/mood every human being should understand and appreciate.
We cannot be more thankful for all the help we’ve got to make the evening so memorable. A big gratitude to Hjgher, the ladies from Ate, Triceratops for the gorgeous flower arrangements, Books Actually, Siew & Yang, Todd Belz, Kitt Santos & your amigas, the journalists, our beloved guests and loved ones.
This is just the beginning of something remarkably beautiful and we are so happy that you are part of it.
The images here are taken from the tags and friends. Do send us more pictures or tag #jovialgathering!
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.
June 28, 2013 § 3 Comments
Another post in three days? I think this must be a personal record. I have not felt like writing so much in a long time. While there has been so many things going on, I can only focus on a few things in my head. Right now, it’s brioche, food writing topics & being honest. I have been obsessed with brioche recipes since we introduced it. The Santa Monica restaurant I used to work in, had the best homemade foolproof recipe which I foolishly left it there. Now I can only recollect memories of the crew helping me knead the buttery dough after it proofed. So I have been researching countless recipes in hope to find the right one.
Lately, I have been exploring the creative side of food writing. Reaching out to different forms of writing style, techniques and topics. Keeping a notebook beside me is much like a best friend listen to your inner thoughts. The most unexpected emotions and moods surface at unruly times, but that is the beauty I find intriguing and keeps me going. Though, I wish it happens more often when I am sitting in front of the computer at six in the morning. It is not the best time to churn out some alphabets before getting ready for work, but a habit I have been wanting to achieve since it’s the only quiet time I have during the day. A clear stream of thoughts reflects the honest self and what is truly important to me.
Of late, it has been trying. While writing silences the sounds in my head and surroundings, I have been facing some hard truth. After looking at the films from my London trip in January, I had realized how much I wanted to start the year with a clean slate. To be treated differently, to be honest with the self, to be kind, to be generous, to stay true and learn. It has not been the same. There were judgements, there were harsh words, there were tough times. Once told that I “shouldn’t be too much of being myself”, I have been trying to project the individual society accepted. Only to realize, how awkward it was and how exhausting it can be.
The very essentials of openness is to accept shame. Shame in any form, like a failed brioche recipe, tried tested tasted and now, moving on. Being fully aware of it, and not being fully afraid of admitting it. It is then, I found the little joys of failing. The hard crusts turn into croutons, old cookies become breakfast dunked in milk for hours, leftover pasta becomes a lunch treat. The unexpected happens.
The point isn’t to live without any regret. It is to not hate ourselves for having them – Kathryn Schulz.