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.
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,
May 3, 2017 § Leave a comment
When we look up at the sky, we are trying to find the way to ourselves.
What is a community? A few individuals coming together and striving for a united goal? Or collective personalities wired to generate something better? Both scenarios sound similar to one another but none of them truly understand the beauty of a community. To understand the collective, we need to question the individuals. How they view themselves and what their roles are. The beauty that sync us lies beneath our heartbeats. It is in the way we devote ourselves, and commit in being inclusive.
I have yearned to be part of a community. I have wanted to integrate people’s lives with each other. A space for one another to be themselves through honesty, selflessness and trust. A bond of reliance for us to feel loved or inclusive.
There is a certain level of commitment when we dedicate ourselves, forming interdependence. One that takes time and effort to sow and nurture into a beautiful wheat field. A seed is carefully rooted into the ground for natural growth, then germinating into stems/leaves, eventually sprouting to a tall confident plant. A plant is nothing beyond itself, but a few of them forms something special. That something special transcends differences.
Last two weeks were rather challenging. We were setting up the space and have been pulling long shifts to misc, prep, clean, organise, plan and so on. There were too many of us, yet there wasn’t enough collectiveness. The irony in forming a space where miscommunications and ego override transparency.
It reminded me of how we set up the previous spot. How we cemented the floors, cleaned the equipments, test recipes and gradually gain confidence with time. How the community around us were patient, yet curious and grew with us. Somehow it felt right. Somehow it really thrived. For a long period of time, we gather a good amount of love and trust. Somehow, we lost this essence overtime.
Perhaps it is just for me.
A friend and I have been discuss the meaning of friendship for a while now. How we make the effort to reach out but the other party doesn’t. How we continuously want to involve ourselves with their lives and only to be turned away with a cold reply (or even better, silence). We understand moving on with life or getting busy but it is a two way street, with every step comes a closer bond. Free spirited hearts carrying heartfelt banters of care and concerns. While we can grow apart, we can also grow inclusively with humility.
I have watched various spaces filled with people who come and go. Many that stay beyond their “time” and many who couldn’t stay still because of something more. I have rooted myself in places where I thought people would grow together with time. But only to be disappointed, with time itself.
Looking up to the sky last evening,I have decided again to slowly let go of the strings I attached myself to. That this little big island, cannot be a place for a fish out of water like me. After five years, there is something better than forming a better relationship with a piece of device than the person living next door. If this is living, then the living is rather nonchalent. We are too afraid to bring the walls down; yet the only thing that brings us together is by lowering them.
Vulnerability in community snowballs. Once its members become vulnerable and find themselves being valued and appreciated, they become more and more vulnerable. The walls come tumbling down. And as they tumble, as the love and acceptance escalates, as the mutual intimacy multi-plies, true healing and converting begins. Old wounds are healed, old resentments forgiven, old resistances overcome. Fear is replaced by hope. – M.Scott Peck
If letting go looks like the beautiful sunset, then let the light in.
A little tip of enhancing beetroot hummus with laksa flowers leaves and sambal. Oh what would I do without a little kick of spiciness in my food?
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.
April 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
perhaps this was lunch or breakfast, whatever the time was, a bowl of oatmeal with coconut flesh, mango, fresh berries and ground cinnamon chia seeds
There are many reasons why I put up with the long hours, the kitchen bullshit, the shenanigans crew and irregular produce or perhaps nature. There are many reasons why day after day I go back to the station, lay a wet towel, a chopping board, and sharpen the knife before cooking. There are many reasons to stay in this spot, but with different cooking styles and a change of crew; yet feeling the familiarity of creating something together. Watching all the little actions, discipline attitudes, loud laughters with tired eyes and knowing somehow when everything comes to one, we are doing something good. There are no reasons to why I will ever stop doing this because deep down, it’s to feed people honest food and simply see the smiles on their faces.
I want to be honest in everywhere.
I had Indian vegetarian dinner with a chef friend sometime last week. While we decide over what dishes to share, I took a chance to question his hospitality experiences. We had worked in mutual establishments but at different times and with different crew. Nevertheless, we had gained a somewhat passionate drive and indebted deed for these places for we were young and were just starting out our service journeys. There is something we couldn’t point out that drawn us here, but we realised that at some moments, the chefs/owners had made us feel like “nothing”.
Yes, nothing. Nada. Empty.
They made us feel like we didn’t belong there or simply didn’t care to be there even when we put in 60-80 hours a week/dedicated our hearts to the space. Why? Well perhaps it was their egos that we didn’t feed or they couldn’t accept that we challenged their mottos. I often hear stories of crew saying they “fit in” or “left out”. How come we always want to be part of something when we couldn’t even accept ourselves or even discover ourselves yet? Why are we always seeking from approval from others while we couldn’t even approve of our own doings/feelings? More so allow others to do so?
While exploring this topic, we walked around the bustling Little India’s vegetable vendors. The produce seems to be more vibrant and energetic, much like the people and vibes they portrayed. After almost a decade in this industry, we realised that we had to be honest with ourselves. That came with courage and vulnerability, like oil and vinegar whisk together to form a beautiful gentle vinaigrette.
I no longer feel the need to impress customers but to make them happy. I had always been the plain Jane who bakes everyday cake loaves and imagine serving a community that makes my family. I want to be the butter to their breads and cup of daily joe. Following trends and moving forward may seem appealing but there is so much more about history of food and authentic cooking/baking techniques I have yet to master. Hence, ordering the classic aloo gobi masala and paneer with an all-time-favourite soft chapati.
Somewhere down the line, I found happiness in being presently focus on making this philosophy count.
Somewhere through that night, I realised my personal life was taking a shift. I no longer feel the need to change for someone. I no longer feel so upset when they don’t feed themselves well or be responsible of their own health (well I try to). If they can’t help themselves, you can’t help them. The realisations have to come from within. That being said, I am thankful to be surrounded by motivated crossfit ladies/long-distance runners or smoothie nazis/cleaner eating buddies. One step at a time, one step at a time.
Much like this morning’s surprised breakfast (after a too early 8km run) at Woodlands Sourdough. An old regular who got his & his wife’s hands dirty and opened a heartwarming bakery. Long fermented bread dough with patience, homemade almond butter with sea salt/honey and honest coffee. I can only hope for more like-minded people for a good change.
March 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
Every year, at particularly this time, a sunken feeling falls deep into the heart. Every year, I wonder where I’ll be and what he would think of what I’ve done. In some ways, I’ve looked up to him and in many ways, I still do. Sometimes, I don’t think I know him enough to fully understand who he was or what he has done. But he has left me an enormous amount of knowledge and a good friend, who seems to remind me that we should appreciate every moment and make them count.
I know I always remind my readers to focus on the moment and be thankful. It can be quite tiring for those eyes to read the same lines. But time after time, I find myself falling into selfish hands or filthy mouths or, ugly hearts and getting hurt because I continuously give people chances for them to change.
The truth of the matter is, they don’t change. You have to make the first move. That means planting a good seed and nurturing it from the very beginning with all your heart. Give it time, effort, care and understand it. It’s little branches, the fallen leaves, the innocent buds and how they blossom under your watchful eyes. After all, long-lived trees make roots first.
Perhaps for those who have been reading this page know this story. But for those who doesn’t, nine years ago, we lost my dear cousin to myocardial infarction. Also known as an heart attack. There were no signs. Just a phone call before breakfast and off we go to the hospital; by sunset, we were planning out his funeral. The next few days were a dazed. I remember her saying to me, it’s as if everything has to continue but for me it stopped.
I stared at blank spaces with tired eyes thinking of the last dinner we had. I watched people went through their routines and wondered if they noticed something different. I definitely did.
It was her birthday. His was the following day.
A man of irony and good wit. A women of unconditional love and forgiveness. They were always the pair we looked forward to hanging out on lazy evenings. It wasn’t easy being together. No matter what couples portray to you, even the happiest one goes through the toughest times. They had their fair share but they gave their word to one another.
And she still does.
Happy Birthday E. Life is still wonderful in many ways.