Saturday, September 26, 2009


Moon cake festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the eight month, on the night of a full moon. It falls on October 3rd this year. The festival has its origins from the 14th century when during this period, China was ruled by the Mongols. Unknown to the Mongol rulers, moon cakes with secret messages inside were distributed to the citizens during the Mid-Autum Festival. The messages contained information on plans to coordinate a revolution to overthrow the Mongols. The revolution was a success and moon cakes now commemorate the legend.
The cakes come in many varieties in beautiful boxes and paper bags. Moon cakes are exchanged as gifts during this time.
The baked golden skin (outer layer) of the cake contains Chinese symbols of the Mid-Autum Festival. They are very sweet and rich in flavour and is nevert eaten as a whole, but cut into wedges and shared. When the moon cake is cut into half, the full moon (duck egg yolk) clearly stands out in the centre of the brown lotus paste filling.
The traditional ones are filled with a sweet lotus seed paste with a single salted duck egg yolk (represents the full moon). You can order moon cakes with double, triple or four duck egg yolks (this is way too extravagant for me even though I love duck eggs). The cakes with the egg yolks are an acquired taste. Imagine eating a sweet cake with the subtle flavour of a slated duck egg yolk, not mixed into the batter like Western cakes, but baked as a entire egg yolk.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


My brother-in-law turned 70 three weeks ago and his family organised a family bash for the "young man." They live in another state in Malaysia, Perak, in a smaller town called Ipoh. We travelled about 200 km north from Kuala Lumpur and the journey took 2 hours. It was a good reunion and Gismoman drove his brother's SUV as there were 7 of us - parents-in-law, brother and sister-in-law and the three of us. MaritanGirl was pretty excited at meeting her cousins and her 3 1/2 year-old neice. Her cousins stay relatively near us but with school and all sorts of activities, they do not get to meet often, only during family reunions. The curries were spicy and we ate them with "chapati," a flat bread made from wheat flour, quite similar to tortillas.
The cousins and their little niece. They become "Aunties" very early due to the large age differences among the siblings in GismoMan's family. They all wanted the little one to sit on their laps so she had to do the "musical lap" to please the 3 aunties. Note their normal daily clothes.
The girls in their traditional costumes for prayers in the Gurdwara (Sikh temple). The costumes are called "salwar kameez." It consists of a collarless tunic in a rich colour with matching or contrasting coloured pants and a shawl (dupatta). The pants are pyjama-like, wide at the top and narrow around the ankles. There is a lot of bead-work, sequins or embroidery in the tunic and dupatta. The dupatta is a long rectangular veil/shawl. It is an essential part of the salwar kameez as it is used to cover the head before entering the Gurdwara or is drapped over the head in the presence of elders as a mark of respect. The girls are flanked by their grand parents (great grand parents for the little one) who are 84 years and 97 years old. The entrance to the Gurdawa.
The girls with dupatta covering their heads. Even the boys have the heads covered with turbans or knotted hankerchiefs. Their cousin is knotting his hankerchief over his head (behind far right). Vegetarian meals are served after the prayers.

It was a good reunion. I feel it is essential to bring MartianGirl back to the traditions and religious activities of her ethnic group. She gets so carried away with the modern ways of life. The only occassions she wears a salwar kameez are during these reunions and festivals.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


This is a steam boat that I would have liked to travel on. It would have taken months to reach my destination but it would have been worth the experience of a slow and relaxing journey. I can't buy tickets for steam boats like these anymore, not even in themeparks. So the nearest thing to this steam boat is...
...THIS STEAMBOAT. It sure does not look quite the same, the only similarity is both produces STEAM. In Asia, steamboat refers to food cooked in soup in a pot that sits on a covered gas burner. Modern times now dictates that electric pots are safer but many restaurents still use the old fashion pots attached to gas cylinders beside or under the tables. We put all kinds of food into the soup that comes in two flavours - traditional plain broth or the spicy tom yam.

This plate offers squid cut into long strips, snails, bamboo clams and dried oysters.

Here is fish and meat paste made into balls, and Chinese mushrooms. There is also white pomfret (diamond-shaped fish) and prawns. The side dishes include honey chicken wings. We eat everything with chopsticks including the chicken wings. I know Colonel Sanders from Kentucky Fried Chicken says chicken is "finger-linkin' good" but why get our fingers dirty. It is a skill eating chicken wings with chopsticks but we start our chopsticks training with noodles very early - at around 2 years old .

Steam boat starts with selecting what we like and popping them into the soup. Close the lid of the pot, chat with our friends as we start on the side dishes of chicken wings, fried rice and curry chicken.
When the steam rises, the soup is bubbling hot and it's done. We scoop the meat into our little bowls and eat the meat with the many sauces provided. We start with the meat first followed by vegetables and lastly put in some noodles and crack an egg or two in. The soup with all the flavours of the meat and vegetables makes a yummy broth thicken with eggs and noodles.
The traditional clear broth steam boat.
It is a really perfect dish for winter. My friends studying abroad have steamboat very often as it is so easy to make. Boil some chicken bones and season with salt and pepper for the broth. Cut slices of all sorts of meat (chicken, beef, pork) or seafood. "Bung" it all in (that's what they tell me) and it's done. Anything goes!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Only leaves on the pumpkin plant Pumpkin flowers on the fenceBaby pumpkin starting to grow GROWING BIGGER...
This pumpkin fence started like Jack and the Beanstalk, only it did not grow overnight up to the sky but took about 2 months . I bought a pumpkin from Tesco supermarket for about RM6. Made some stir-fried pumpkin with coconut milk and washed and dried the seeds. Dug a little trough next to the fence in the back lane and spread all the pumpkin seeds inside. I must have planted about 25 seeds or more and only 2 grew. Six pumplins grew to full size, the remaining flowers fell off or the baby pumpkins dropped off after some time. I gave one to my father-in-law, one to my sister-in-law, one to share with friends at work and one each to my neighours on both sides. The other two I kept to make pumpkin dessert, pumpkin soup and vegetable. Both GismoMan and MartianGirl were really excited when the plants started to grow, but after having had to eat pumpkins for weeks, they got quite depressed with the pumpkin fence.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Meet Caty Kim II, our pet pupae to butterfly. We found Cathy Kim on the underside of a wild lime tree in my vegetable plot. The wild limes, also called " limau perut," have very fragrant leaves that are commonly used as spices in curries. Obviously, the caterpillars must find them quite delicious too as they can destroy a small tree as they nibble the leaves voraciously. We transferred the pupae to a plastic container as we did not want it to be pecked by the birds. Punched some holes in the cover and left it quietly in the kitchen. Not so quietly as MartianGirl kept peering and moving the container hoping to see the butterfly emerge. What is it with teenagers that they do not listen and have absolutely no patience? After about 2 weeks, it completed its metamorphosis. I got up one morning and found the butterfly waiting patiently for me to throw open the kitchen windows.

This is the second time we have kept a pet grub. Cathy Kim I was a bright apple green caterpillar when we found it. I picked lime leaves and put them into the container everyday. The word "diet" does not exist in a caterpillar's vocabulary - it actually ate so much I had to buy fresh lime leaves from the market as my wild lime tree became bald. I did not know if caterpillars needed water so I sprinkled water inside daily. It was one fat, greedy, nibbling grub that eventually progressed into a brown pupae. It might be that mornings are cooler as I had the opportunity to watch it slowly emerge as I prepared breakfast. It took a long, long time and I was so tempted to help it along as the wings struggled to unfold from the small cramped pupae. But, I controlled my fidgeting hands as helping it would have only damaged it's wings. The whole process from caterpillar to butterfly was pretty educational for MartianGirl, a city slicker who onced called a goat a dog.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


The duku is a not so common fruit that makes its way to the markets in seasons. It is about the size of a golf ball and can get slightly larger. It has a thick pale skin with shinny pips (about 5 - 6) inside and the taste range from sweet to sourish. Opening it is easy, just put one duku between both thumbs and first fingers and press gently. It will just split open to show the edible translucent bits inside. It is not everyone's favourite as the fruits can be slightly sourish and don't ever bit into the seed as it is very bitter. The tree is quite tall and the fruits grow in bunches. I remember my first adventure in the "dusun" (orchard) plucking duku. We followed out Aunt's helper back to her village. When my brothers poked the bunches of duku using a long stick, the fruits came raining down from way up high. Being real city slickers, we were so daft , we were looking up when the dukus came pelleting down. It was a "starry" affair as our faces and heads were bombarded. The country kids had a really good laugh at us. I was only about five years-old then and it hurt a lot. And another advice about the duku, don't let anyone call you a duku, it's not a compliment cos it means you are stupid and as thick as the duku's skin. The phrase is usually used like this - "He's a real duku." I bet the country kids called us a bunch of dukus on that unfortunate day.


Mangosteens are cool fruits. Cool, not as in fashionably cool, but cool as it having a cooling effect on the body. Asians rate food as "heatie" or cooling - "heatie foods are those that warm up the body. Mangosteens have a very rich purple colour and inside the thick pulp are pure white, sweet fleshy pips. There are only 2 fruits in Malaysia that are strictly not allowed into Hotels - the durian because of its strong smell and the mangosteen because the pulp leaves a permanent stain. The fruit has high anti-oxidant properties and the pulp has been dried and processed into capsules. There is even a drink made from the pulp and available in cartons in the supermarkets here, but believe me it doesn't taste all that good. Opening the fruit requires some practise, you need to hold it inbetween both palms and gently press hard and the pulp layer will just break apart. I will not advise you to eat the almighty durian even though it is called the King of fruits but, the mangosteen, YOU MUST TRY it.