Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Our New Year Eve Dinner - passing the baton of cooking

What's your idea of a New Year Eve Dinner? Hotel? Best Restaurant in Town? Parents-in-laws?

Mine has often been home cooked if we are not travelling not that we travel a lot. It is usually at home and with some friends staying with us. I cook so much that sometimes I think I operate a Bed and Meals homestay but that is what the family is for since my grandmother's time - never let a traveller pass by the home without a good meal.

This New Year Eve is slightly different because I am working right until five. And someone other than yours truly must get the meal going. Therefore we suggested children-cooked meal.

And thus a New Year Eve dinner was cooked in spite of the travelling the hair perming and the hard to come by mint and basil. We managed to do some photography too.

If you need a good dish shashimi is always a good idea. There is no preparation except for the wasabi and Kikoman sauce and perhaps a good knife to slice the salmon well. This is a good way to start a good CHILDREN- cooked New Year Meal.

For a change instead of making the usual Foochow Spring Roll my daughter made a Vietnamese inspired roll with Vietnamese rice paper (bought in Kim Joo Miri) . the rice paper is different from the normal spring roll skin. We used salmon and cucumber as part of the filling. turned out quite exotic especially with the authentic Vietnamese sauce suggested by my son's Vietnamese classmate.

This is Grandma's pork meat balls (small king pork balls in Foochow) made to perfection and even served in a traditional Foochow soup tureen (made in China - blue and green).
My son is a kind of family specialist for this dish. Once upon a time he wanted to eat them so much that he called up grandma for the recipe and the tips to make the pork balls just like hers. BTW I am a "the original 5 minute speedy cook " so I do not do time consuming dish like this. My son once told me that he had been mentally and physically denied this wonderful pork balls and he was definitely traumatised . Miri restaurants do not do this Foochow dish. For generations in my mother's family would gather together in the early morning before the festive dinner to make each pork ball with great love from scratch ( YES - WE DID NOT BUY MINCED PORK). And that is why the dish is just so wonderful and meaningful. I am glad my son is the holder of the recipe now. And this evening the spirits of my grandmother and Third Uncle Pang Sing were with us.

My last outing in making a huge humber of this pork ball was when a cousin got married in Sg. Maaw and my Third Uncle Pang Sing and his helpers including some of us made enough pork balls for 12 tables!! Easily 2 balls per person - so 240 balls!! That was more than 40 years ago.

This is our family dish - the crispy skin belly pork with really crunchy and melt in the mouth skin. The pork was seasoned for a good 24 hours and then roasted over high heat in the convectional oven until the skin blistered and crackled. Then for a short while the rest of the meat is slowly roasted until it is tender to the teeth. Every member of the family has been trained to prepare this dish.

One important dish my children has to perfect is the Szechuan vegetable pork rib soup Foochow Style. Fresh pork bones and ribs must be par boiled and so must be the szechuan vegetables. This is one of their favourite soups. So they got it ready for dinner spending a big slice of their afternoon watching the stove top pot .

This is almost my kind of "instant" dish " I often have broccoli at home or I can pick it up from the way home from my favourite import vegetables lady hawker (whose daughter is going to be an economist now studying in UNIMAS) and whose 20 year old son who sells vegetables in another market drives a racy Honda car. With dried mushrooms and a tin of sea asparagus I can do this dish in 20 minutes and I have taught my children about this kind of "instant" cooking. I do believe that my children can now rustle up something like this for their friends and relatives.

The mun mien (braised noodles in seafood and soy sauce) is a Foochow "last dish" which signifies the host's generosity. It is the dish that says" one for the road". In case the meal has not been decent enough this noodle dish will fill you up and you won't get hungry along the way home. Excellent idea from the Foochow elders!! And the trick to remember to pick it up(and remember to order in the morning) as you pass by your favourite mung mien outlet or your favourite hotel restaurant on your way home from work. Just add more of the bok choy which you have put on standby in the fridge if you want more greens. The problem about cooking the noodles yourself is the large amount of washing of the wok and other utensils!!

I think I can retire from the family kitchen officially now and read Bertrand Russell or Cecilia Ahern with my legs on the footstool while the stoves are roaring with their fires!! Or blog when "some one is in the kitchen washing dishes!!"

Happy New Year!! And May God bless you Bountifully in 2009!!

New Year - Gifts and Celebrations around the World

2008 will end in 15 hours from this time of writing! And 2009 will be another year, a new year! How time has flown. A relative said very aptly last night : "I hardly felt the year passing by!"

We have grown a year older and hopefully a year wiser. And many of us have put a little more in the middle and not as much in the bank!

Two thoughts today: gift traditions at new year and different ways of celebrating new year throughout the world in order to understand the culture of some selected people of the world. Perhaps we can be united in our diversity one day.

Gift Tradition at New Year

With the new year coming in all of us think of new clothes and gifts for each other. We just cannot help it. We dig deep into our pockets to buy things for our loved ones. This generous feeling just comes in suddenly at the end of the year.

From the Celts to the Romans:
The Celtic-Teutonic Druids used to make a gift of their holy plant mistletoe at the beginning of the Year. Among the Romans such gifts were called 'strenae', a word said to be derived from the goddess of luck, Strenia. At first the gifts were branches from sacred trees meant for wishing recipients an auspicious New Year. Later objects like gilded nuts and coins bearing the imprint of Janus, the god with two faces to whom January was sacred.

Rome had also developed a custom of presenting gifts to the emperor. But later the spirit ceased to exist and a 'forced payment' replaced the 'gifts'. Courtesy, the power wielding Roman despots. It went on for some couple of centuries until the practice was forbidden by Pope Leo I the Great in 458.

The English and the Scots:
English royalty, also began to force their subjects in the matter of New Year's gifts as early as the time of Henry III (1216-72). Queen Elizabeth was very watchful of the "who's and what's" of the giving and received great amounts in jewels and gold on New Year's Day. She systematized the practice to the extent of keeping descriptive lists of the gifts presented to her from all walks of life. However, following the splendor of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the practice declined. Finally, when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came into power, the custom stopped.

The New Year gift exchange was also a common practice among the ordinary English people until the Victorian regime. Gloves were a usual gift. Also popular were oranges stuck with clove, used to preserve and flavor wine. When the English had settled in America they brought in the tradition and continued to exchange gifts and presents at the New Years. So did the French. Thus we find, the predominantly French, New Orleans continued with the New Year's practice for a long time. And in France even today gifts and greeting cards are presented on New Year's Day.

In Scotland, where New Year's is the biggest feast of the year, gifts were solicited by bands of boys who went from door to door begging for money and food and singing the ditty: " I wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year,
A pocketful of money
And a cellar full of beer,
And a good fat pig
To serve you all the year."

New Year Around The World

Baby New Year Tradition
The tradition of using a baby to signify the New Year was started around 600 B.C by the ancient Greeks, who, at the start of a year would carry a baby around in a basket. The purpose of it was to honor Dionysus, the God of Fertility and symbolize his annual rebirth.

2) Hogmanay
The New Year in Scotland is called Hogmanay. The people in Scotland follow a ritual that appears nutty but actually has a great significance. One can find barrels of tar set afire and gradually rolled down the streets in the villages of Scotland. This ritual symbolizes that the old year is burned up and New Year is going to begin.

3) Burning "Mr. Old Year"
In Columbia, Cuba and Puerto Rico families stuff a life-size male doll with things and then they dress it up in old clothes from each family member. At the stroke of midnight, this 'Mr. Old Year' is set on fire. This is done with the simple belief that a doll thus stuffed have bad memories or sadness associated with them, and that the burning of these will help one to do away with all past grief's and usher in happiness in life with the coming year.

4) Eating Noodles
Late on the evening of December 3 1, people of Japan would eat a bowl of buckwheat noodles called "toshikoshisoba" ("year-crossing noodles") and listen for the sound of the Buddhist temple bells, which were rung 108 times at midnight. The sound of these bells is said to purify the listeners of the 108 sins or evil passions that plague every human being.

5) Eating 12 Grapes
In Spain people eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight (one each time the clock chimes) on New Year's Eve. This peculiar ritual originated in the twentieth century when freak weather conditions resulted in an unseasonable bumper harvest of grapes. Not able to decide what to do about so many grapes at Christmas time, the King of Spain and the grape growers came up with the idea of the New Year ritual.

6) Gifts in Shoes
In Greece children leave their shoes by the fireside on New Year's Day (also the Festival of Saint Basil in Greece) with the hope that Saint Basil, who was famous for his kindness, will come and fill their shoes with gifts.

7) Carrying a Suitcase
In Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico, those with hopes of traveling in the New Year carry a suitcase around the house at midnight. Some even carry it around the block to ensure traveling at greater distances.

8) Burning Crackers
The people in China believe that there are evil spirits that roam the earth. So on New Year they burn crackers to scare the evil spirits. The doors and windows of every home in china can be seen sealed with paper. This is to keep the evil demons out.

9) Times Square Celebrations
The first Ball Lowering celebration atop One Times Square was held on December 31, 1907 and is now a worldwide symbol of the turn of the New Year, seen via satellite by more than one billion people each year. The original New Year's Eve Ball weighed 700 pounds and was 5 feet in diameter. It was made of iron and wood and was decorated with 100 25-watt light bulbs.

10) Foods
It was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. It is still held in some regions that special New Year foods are the harbingers of luck. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune. The hog, and its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year's Day. The ancient Persians gave New Year's gifts of eggs, which symbolized productiveness.

11) Black-eyed peas
Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures.

12) Rings
Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes "coming full circle," completing a year's cycle.

13) Wearing new slippers
In China, many people wear in the new year a new pair of slippers that is bought before the new year, because it means to step on the people who gossip about you.

14) Sealed doors & windows
During new year , the doors and windows of every home in china can be seen sealed with paper. The Chinese think that this will succeed in keep the evil demons out.

15) Jewish New Year
The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. It is a holy time when Jews recall the things they have done wrong in the past, and then promise to do better in the future. Special services are held in the synagogues, children are given new clothes and New Year loaves are baked to remind people of harvest time.

16) Japanese New Year
On New Year's Day in Japan, everyone gets dressed in their new clothes. Homes are decorated with pine branches and bamboo, both of which are considered to be the symbols of long life.

17) American resolutions
40 to 45% of American adults make one or more New Year's resolutions each year. And these range from debt reduction to giving up bad habits to what not? But the ones that are the most common deal with weight loss to exercise to giving up smoking.

And tonight we will have another cookout with the whole family sharing the cooking and having a great Asian meal together. That's our family new year tradition for the time being.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Students of 1977

Thanks to Abana for this photo (

One of the activities I did not get to do in 2008 - attending the Reunion of the Methodist School Classes of 1977 on Dec 27th 2008. I was too far away in the northern part of Sarawak to be able to reach Sibu in time!!

I heard from other teachers that they had a wonderful time and were so happy to meet up with the now "fully grown" students and old friends.

This group of students invited all their teachers from Methodist Primary School to Methodist Secondary School. Indeed they are very appreciative and thoughtful students. RARE.

Even though I did not attend the occasion I have intended to save a space in my blog for their photos. I know many of my colleagues now elsewhere in the world and other students would be reading this and be touched to the core!!

Well Done to the organising committee who tried their best to contact every one!! God bless you and your family.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Little Pillow or Cempedak in Sarawak

Look what I found before Christmas but did not get to make!! Kek Lapis Cempedak recipe!! Well as I was working I just looked at the recipe and the nice photo....yes indeed there is a Kek Lapis Cempedak! And we ate the cempedak without turning it into a cake!

source :

This is how a little pillow)Foochow word for cempedak) look like as a fruit. It is about 20 inches long and 8 inches in diameter.

This is the whole pip (fruitlet) from inside the fruit and the Chinese spoon acts as the scale)

This is the fruit cut longitudinally. There are roughly 20 fruitlets within this cempedak. Another variety would have tinier fruitlets and the flesh would be softer and more chewy though. This type has very crunchy flesh and often can find its way to the dessert counters at even high end hotels.

A friend gave me this cempedak and I had toyed with the idea of making a layered cake for Christmas . But because time was running short and the fruit was getting a little too old we quickly ate it. Its scientific name is Artocarpus champeden and it is mainly found in Malaysia and especially in Sarawak. We get lots of these from our friends who have farms outside the town. The fruit is rather perishable so we have to eat them very quicly. However it is not wise to eat a lot of them as the Chinese consider it a very "heaty" fruit.

Its bigger cousin is the more well known jackfruit. And somehow cempedak does not have an English name. We Foochows call it Chien Tau Yian or Little Pillow as it really looks like a small pillow.

The fruit is sweet and sticky and has a strong odour when it is ripe. The original species is pale yellow to bright yellow but some hybrids today have orangey shades. However there are fewer fruits in the newer breeds.

When ripened the skin has blackish spots and the so soft that you can break it with your fingers. But we usually cut it length-wise into half.

Most chempedak is found growing wild although many local farmers do cultivate them in their farms especially the Ibans who own hillier land in the upper middle reaches or a river. The tree grows to 20 metres (m) in height. My grandmother had a few trees growing in her Sg. Maaw house and when we were young we enjoyed eating this fruit amongst all fruits which she grew. We therefore never had to buy any local fruits. We only had to buy durians and fruits like grapes and apples. Oh yes we had to buy Jaffa sunkist oranges.

The cempedak fruits are seasonal so sometime there can be an over supply which causes the fruits to be sold very cheaply. There may be two seasons of cempedak a year.

Many commercial farmers are trying to cultivate the hybrids of this fruit so that they could be in the mainstream export business.

The fruits have found new culinary interest. Sauces have been made from the fruit and chutneys of cempedak are quite popular. Many people like cempedak with their ice cream. Sometimes a good salad can be made from cempedak too. I usually slice the flesh off the seeds add to a thin sauce made from coconut milk. In order to reduce the strong aroma of the cempedak I will also add some longans and lycees. This is a nice icy cold dessert at the end of a small dinner.

In the rural areas the immature cempedak is cooked as a vegetable .

If cempedak is eaten as a snack it can be fried in batter. The seeds can be boiled in salt water/ We had lots of the seeds cooked in this way and unfortunately the next few days we would suffer from constipation.

Fried cempedak are often found sold in road side stalls in Malaysia.

I hope this lovely local fruit will find more popularity in the future.

sources :
1. David Chandlee, "Treefarm", El Arish, North Queensland 4855, AUSTRALIA
Phone: National 07 4068 5263, International +61 7 4068 5263
2. Wikipedia

Christmas Dinner - Family Smorgasbord

Our Christmas Eve Dinner was a very collaborative effort with three children (another one being too far away in California )who came home for Christma. Between them they had the convection oven and the two gas stoves going at the same time. Furthermore they also had the charcoal fire outside for our very own local style of barbequed pork. In this way they had four nice dishes cooking simultaneously with three "cooks" in attendance.

For the last two and half years since my retirement I have been working for a corporation that is not Christian in faith so all the Christian employees do not get a half day off as its traditions only see half day off for Hari Raya Aidil Fitri Chinese New Year and Gawai for the respective races. Thus I was saved by my children who can cook. With the children at home I could work right until five and come home to a family cooked Christmas smorgasbord - I arrived with just the hotel mun mien and cheese cake.

At this point of time I am glad I taught my children to cook at a very young age - son was able to fry a decent egg by nine. My daughters were my kitchen helpers from a very tender age since we had many relatives who came visiting.

My second daughter picked a ratatouille recipe from to try out - with great success. But unfortunately my camera did not do the dish justice as the flash failed without my noticing it. So I am using a picture sourced from the recipe page we used. It is indeed an excellent recipe and I will try cooking it again and more photos later.

This was our leg of lamb well seasoned with just olive oil and pepper and salt the meat came off gently from the bone and was really tender on the tongue. The lamb in the picture was ready for carving.

The ketupat was a joint venture with an in-law who chose to make it at her home and she delivered them just before our dinner. She paid for leaves and I paid for the rice. She did all the cooking herself. She gave me 15 ketupat and 20 kelupis )glutinous rice wrapped in daun long for RM20. That is quite a good deal. Lemang is more pricey at RM10 per bamboo in the market.

This was our medium rare beef sliced and plated with some garnishing. Turned out well and just right and there was nothing left towards the middle of the dinner!! It was so succulent (having been soaked in wine before cooking )that the diners asked for more soon at another cook out!!

Huge tuna steaks fresh from the Jerudong Fish Market (Brunei) which has the freshest fish on the west coast of Borneo!! Cooked over a charcoal fire for only ten minutes each side the tuna was superbly tasty and tender.

Slices of belly pork cooked over charcoal fire in the open. Marinated in sugared oyster sauce and sea salt. The slightly burnt skin gave the atmosphere a very outdoor feel.

Oven baked potatoes with thyme by my son - finished on the first round!!

The creme De la creme : our goose from a fine food store KL cooked in our own convection oven.

Cheese cake with chocolate and vanilla icecream to end the dinner.

Through my a little too tired eyes and shaky hands after all the washing of dishes I managed to take this photo after the dinner of my this year's red blue and white themed Christmas tree. I need to ask my Sibu photographer friends for more advice on taking a photo of a Christmas tree that flashes two sets of fairy lights at two different timing.

The evening ended with coffee and lots of Christmas music filling the cold air around midnight.

It was a fabulous dinner for nine people but as usual we had cooked more than enough food for twenty people as we often would never know who might just drop by and so with so much left overs we look forward to a bountiful new year 2009......and I hope the glad tidings of the Christmas message will ring true for all friends and relatives.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rambai Thoughts on Christmas Eve

The carollers of yesteryears in the Rejang Basin of Sarawak sang out heartily " We bring you good news! News of peace and understanding! News of good will! News of a new born king!" We were like little angels dressed in whatever frocks we had while the boys wore their white cotton shirts and short pants. The pastor wore his white shirt and probably cotton khaki trousers. It was an amazing journey for me - to sing my heart out and to fill the village air with songs of glad tidings.

Actually I had only one opportunity to go carolling on one Christmas Eve in my grandmother's village. In one home I remember,after singing the carols in Foochow and in Mandarin too we were served fruits by the lovely host. It was almost 3 a.m. in the morning and we could hear all sorts of noises in the fruit garden . We had walked along a plankwalk made up of two planks side by side while mud oozed out at the side. Some of us even stepped into soft mud when we got overly excited and enthusiastic. We had to be careful with our torch lights, lanterns and candles.

I am quite sure that at that time we had no fears going into the darkness led by our assistant pastor.Or perhaps I have already forgotten some of the emotions that we had. Going carolling "downriver" was a very interesting activity as the farm houses which were all on stilts were quite far from each other. And then as a young girl I was so happy to be with my cousins and we actually threw all apprehensive thoughts into the wind. Afterall we were children from rubber tapping families.

Recnetly I was delighted when I chanced upon some hawkers selling rambai and so I quickly took this photo. The rambai was served to us during this unique carolling experience of mine. Other fruits served were langsat, rambutans and even durians!! We enjoyed the fruits very much but of course we did not eat as much as we wanted because we were trained to stand on ceremony - Foochow style. We had to remember that the main focus of our carolling mission was to have a chance to sing carols to friends and relatives in our village in Sg. Maaw. We must remember that all children would like to have the opportunity to perform for the adults in order to gain approval and a certain social recognition. My cousin who could sing well continue her singing into her adulthood. But for me this carolling experience was enriching and memorable.

The days of carolling in Chinese rubber growing villages are gone forever from the Rejang. Just memories left and they seem to be fading if we do not have photos or written paper. Life goes on and life changes.

It is good to reflect on those bygone days and still perhaps catch a glimpse of my grandmother's black brocade trousers and blue samfoo at the full length window. And then I would like to smell the ylang ylang(bai yu lan) scent that she always had on her. It would have been such a comfort to know that our elderly grandmother was at hand.

Extra notes....

Baccaurea motleyana

A nice, sweet-acid flavored fruit appreciated in part of Southeast Asia. Fruits grow to 2", with a yellow-brown skin and white pulp.

Description: Short to medium sized tree growing to 20-30ft.

Hardiness: Unknown.

Growing Environment: Not available.

Propagation: By seeds.

Uses: The fruits eaten fresh out of hand or processed into beverages and wine.

Native Range: Native to Southeast Asia. Cultivated in parts of Thailand and Vietnam.

source :

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bak Kut Teh or Pork Rib Tea

(Please substitute Chicken drum sticks or Mutton ribs or even lamb shanks for Pork if you would like to prepare the halal version of this recipe)

While herbal soups have been with the Chinese for centuries the Pork Rib Tea may not have such a long and illustrious history. Food historians have attributed this herbal soup to the ingenuity of the Chinese housewives of Hokkien descent in Malaysia. Each morning the loving wives would boil the pork ribs until the meat break away tenderly from the bones together with herbs "taken" from the Chinese herbalist. It has been said that the soup has been known to help the men work long hours in the sun without feeling tired and the women to remain robust,productive and good looking in spite of the long hours of toil in and out of the house.

It could also have been an accidental discovery by an innovative chef or cook in the Chinese merchant's household or a booming restaurant. But nevertheless it is indeed a unique , delectable and hearty soup. I think it is good for the soul as well as the body. In Malaysia and Singapore Bak Kut Teh outlets are as numerous as coffee shops. Most tourists must have a taste of it before leaving Malaysia and Singapore.

Bak Kut Teh anyway has invaded the Foochow homes in recent years because lots of Foochows have acquired a love for the soup (anything good for the body is good for the Foochows I must say) since they were first introduced to it via local tourism and Singapore business associations,intermarriages or social visits.

Although most bak kut teh outlets are mainly owned by genuine Hokkiens who claim their secret herbal recipes are original many Bak Kut Teh shops in Sibu are Foochow owned. Look out for charcoal stoves - they are the best stoves for BKT and the fragrance of the soup is particularly good. We usually go where the fragrance is the most attractive to the educated nose!!

The Bak Kut Teh is usually served in the morning as a breakfast item with cruellers and green vegetables. A bowl of garlic rice is also part of the ensemble. However there are outlets which serve 24 hours of BKT!!

So if you want to be as strong as an ox and probably live as long as an elephant do partake of the Bak Kut Teh every once in a while.

And here are some of my pictures to show you how to prepare a simple BKT at home. My herbs are specially packed by my cousin who gives a good measure for just under 5 ringgit per packet (Ing Kong Drug Store , Miri). I find his combination better than the A1 or other brands. If you happen to be in Miri do make friends with him even if it is only for his Bak Kut Teh :) :) :) He is the most friendly herbalist in the resort city .

Get the best of the bones and ribs from a good butcher enough for five persons. Have them chopped into 2 inch sizes.

Boil the herbs separately in a slow cooker over night or for as long as you like
(or at least three hours over a charcoal stove)

Use a claypot if you have one. But an ordinary pot is just as good. You can use a large slow cooker too. Par boil the pork ribs/bones and then discard the fluid. Boil again for a good three hours with the herbal stock until the meat comes off the bones easily in the herbal soup.

Serve the BKT with fried tau foo and greens. Dish into individual bowls.

Suggested INGREDIENTS for Bak Kut Teh ( that is if you do not have your own herbalist):

3/4 kg pork spareribs, cut into 2-inch pieces

Some pieces of belly pork
Some slivers of liver
Some slivers of kidney
Some slivers of pig stomach
1 whole bulb garlic, unpeeled, slightly crushed
2-inch ginseng root, peeled, slightly crushed
3 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
2 tbsp white peppercorns
2 tbsp black peppercorns
Some sichuan peppercorns (optional)
one or two pieces of tonggui
2 tablespoons of wolfberry (natural sweet) Kou Zi

2 tsp sugar (optional if you use wolfberry)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
6 dried shitake mushrooms
6 shallots, finely sliced and fried golden brown [optional]
salt and pepper

Add some fried tau foo and Chinese Bak Choi. (The Foochows call them curly vegetables)

Tips :

1. For slow oooker - five chinese bowls of water in the slow cooker together with the herbal soup - add some when it is drying up a little.

2. If you are using a charcoal fire do keep the soup on a slow boil and do not dry it up - we usually say that we have to keep watching the soup until it is served on the table....

Have it for breakfast or brunch! Bon Apetit! Ho Chiak!

( It is popularly thought that Clay-pot dishes have maximum flavour but in my opinion the clay pot is good to be put on the table and the soup comes out boiling hot from the kitchen to the table too. The design of the clay-pot assures good retention of heat and keeps food hot much longer. It is always good to have one or two clay pot at home.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

12 Days of Christmas

Sometimes we sing our Christmas Carols without really knowing what we are singing about. Some are happy tunes and most are peaceful. The Twelve Days of Christmas has been around for a very long time and it is not really an easy tune to sing. Many of the children I know find it too long and too repetitive. But they do think that it is a very traditional and rich tune.

Here is an explanation of the Twelve Days of Christmas coming through my email and it is a good thing to share with you as it has baffled many people especially those in Malaysia. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge that won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

•The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
•Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
•Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
•The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
•The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
•The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
•Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
•The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
•Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy,Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
•The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.
•The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
•The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were
not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone
during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics.
It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning
plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each
element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality
which the children could remember.

To all my Christian friends....

Merry Christmas every one!! Peace on the Earth and Good will to all mankind.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pot Stickers and Bonding

Every year when I was young I would spend Christmas with Grandpa or Ah Goong because I would enjoy the Christmas tree and the carolling. Some how the carolling in Sungei Merah was more effective than any other places as far as I can remember. The late Rev Ho Siew Liong had a strong Heng Hua accent (which I really love) and a huge voice for singing.

Of course there were lots of food to pick when we visited each house. But I remember the rambutans and the fresh prawn fritters offered by two homes. They were so memorable.

These days with the huge Christmas procession in the towns of Sarawak carolling from home to home seem to be no longer in fashion. So I am in favour of entertaining small groups of my son's friends in the house - first we got the Christmas tree up with all the trimmings and then we did a pot sticker dinner.

This is the after dinner photo - happiness is making pot stickers from scratch!!

Holidys these days also means children coming to the house for some activities. This is better than having them "lepak" or hang out in Malls.

In the past I used to cook up a handsome dinner when they sort of "We come We Eat and We Go".

So I have decided that each visit should be more than just that. I would ask them how much time they have on their hands and they would usually say plenty of time and even time for a DVD!! That really suits me fine.

Indeed one of my styles of entertaining my friends(cell group) or my children's friends would be a DIY like making your own pot stickers or making some wrapped up food in the last few years.

Pot Luck or Pot Bless has always been on the normal list of course.

Making the wrapper from scratch - at the rolling pin stage. This is a good rolling pin with good handles and the pin rolls well.

One of the pot stickers coming up quite prettily. Different people have different styles of making them. This is but one of the styles - more of the Japanese Gyoji.

All helping out with the wrapping and we finish the dough and filling in no time.

The pot stickers in the non tick pan friying away.

Somehow making pot stickers together seem to be such a bonding act.

Even the smallest friend can help out and he would be one looking for the "ones he made" when they are cooked.

Furthermore they learn a new skill which they will bring home or back to their university when their holidays end. Some would even say that they will make pot stickers with their family just to try out on their own.

It is also good to sit down and have a good meal with the younger generation. This is the time to make them feel good and say thanks to God for their food good health and good friends.

Making pot stickers and eating them in the cool evening is a great DIY kind of entertainment. To me it is a great stress buster too and the kids all learn to wash dishes and even feed the dogs after the meal.

We ended up feeling too full!! Too full of happiness that is......

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Traditional Foochow Birthday Treat

The mee sua or thread noodles are usually prepared for the Chinese New Year which augurs in longevity for the whole family. It is also served during festivals and birthdays. As the pasta is enjoyed by the Italians and others the mee sua is a hot favourite amongst the Foochows who developed this noodle originally. So we usually say that what is pasta to the Italians is what the mee sua is to the Foochows. However I have very warm and loving feelings in Sarawak when I see the mee sua is now enjoyed by almost all the races as a good breakfast or lunch.

Usually a good and very matured chicken is slaughtered and eggs are hard boiled to go with the mee sua.

Some Foochow red wine must be used to make the noodles aromatic and tasty.

For the Muslims the chicken has to be halal and no wine can be used.

Here my aunt is preparing her noodles. This is one task that almost all Foochow women (and men) are good at. For years I have been a frequent partaker of her noodles and I am totally grateful to her and her generosity.

What is amazing is her traditional effort which is very heart warming in these days of 21st century living. Early in the morning she would go to the wet market and choose the best chicken for her chicken mee sua. If no transport is seemingly available she will enjoy the morning walk all the way home (every one is working office hours). But she has great joy in preparing food for the younger generation. Bless her heart!!

A tip : the best mee sua is cooked for each person one at a time if possible. Never through the whole lot of dried mee sua into the hot boiling water at one time in order to save time. That's not the way.


Posted by Picasa

The two bottles of home made wine and store bought soya sauce or kicap are great accompaniments to the Foochow mee sua and are placed at the table at home like this. The Foochow red wine is home made as it is illegal to produce this very delectable wine in a factory. The Malaysian Law prohibits brewing without license and it is very difficult to get the license. Most Foochows women learn how to make this wine at a very early age if they want to.It is a lot of hard work I must say.

Eggs are always hardboiled and put in another bowl.For children's birthdays we have to colour the egg shells red to indicate boys and girls get plain eggs. This goes with the traditional of greater importance for the males who carry the family name to the next generation.

You can help yourself to as many eggs as you like but you also need to see how many the hostess has prepared. So always leave some for the others. Never take more than two is the rule.(Smile)


The chicken and mushroom soup is also served in another bowl. However the generous hostess will also put two or three pieces of chicken in your bowl with some lovely dried mushrooms. Again she will ask you to take more chicken and mushroom from the communcal bowl. As a rule do not try to finish the whole communal bowl of chicken!! That would be the talk of the family for generations...:)

Posted by Picasa

You have to make sure that your chopsticks skill is good. Here she singlehandedly "dish" out the mee sua using her chopsticks.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter Solstice 2008 - A Story from Grandmother

This year the Chinese Winter Solstice falls on 21st December.The Dōngzhì Festival or Winter Solstice Festival (Chinese: 冬至; Pinyin: dōng zhì; "The Extreme of Winter") is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the Dongzhi solar term on or around December 22 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest; i.e., on the first day of the Dongzhi solar term.

My family's story of how Sii Yian came about:

Once a Chinese scholar failed his civil exams and on his way home in deep winter he lost his way and fell into a ravine. He was saved by a monkey princess and as he had lost his memory he stayed with them.

Meanwhile his wife and family were frantic not knowing what to do. It was truly a sad time for them . However after some years of searching the faithful wife heard of a man living amongst half men and half monkeys. She decided to create a way to entice the man to return home. She thus made the first sii yian which was so fragrant and so enticing . She went into the deep mountains where she believed her husband was staying and stuck a sii yian on every tree leading to her village.

When the missing scholar smelled the sii yian he started eating them plucking them from each tree and slowly he reached his home village.

The wife was all prepared with her fellow villagers who got ready a net to capture the "man lost amongst monkeys". And when the man was near the village she knew that her strategy had worked.

The man thus returned home and was reunited with his family and lived happily ever after.

The village celebrated with the family the first reunion and it happened to be the winter solstice.

Even though my grandmother passed away more than 20 years ago I can still remember her stories and teachings vividly. She was an excellent cook and a marvellous housekeeper. I am glad I have a grandmother like her. Each Winter Solstice I remember her especially. And I hope she likes my sii yian posted on the her spiritualrealm.

(This story came to me when I was young and listening to grandmother telling stories during the December long holidays.... We had no TV then. So story telling was a great part of our lives.)

What the Net sources say :

The origins of this festival can be traced back to the Yin and Yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in. The philosophical significance of this is symbolized by the I Ching hexagram fù (復, "Returning").

Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get togethers (especially in the southern parts of China and in Chinese communities overseas) is the making and eating of Tangyuan (湯圓, Cantonese jyutping: tong1 jyun2; Mandarin Pinyin: Tāng Yuán) or balls of glutinuous rice, which symbolize reunion. Tangyuan are made of glutinuous rice flour and sometimes brightly coloured. Each family member receives at least one large Tang Yuan in addition to several small ones. The flour balls may be plain or stuffed. They are cooked in a sweet soup or savoury broth with both the ball and the soup/broth served in one bowl.

In northern China, people typically eat dumplings on Dongzhi. It is said to have originated from Zhang Zhongjing in the Han Dynasty. On one cold winter day, he saw the poor suffering from chilblains on their ears. Feeling sympathetic, he ordered his apprentices to make dumplings with lamb and other ingredients, and distribute them among the poor to keep them warm, to keep their ears from getting chilblains. Since the dumplings were shaped like ears, Zhang named the dish "qǜ hán jiāo ěr tāng" or dumpling soup that expels the cold. From that time on, it has been a tradition to eat dumplings on the day of Dongzhi.

Traditional Chinese Recipe :

Tang yuan is a dish of glutinous rice balls served in a sweet broth. In Chinese culture, it is traditionally served on Dong Zhi, the winter solstice. By eating tang yuan, you welcome in the winter and become one year older.

Tang yuan makes a delicious winter snack and is easy to prepare. Despite its association with mid-winter, it can be enjoyed at any time of year.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
1 cup glutinous rice flour
4 ounces water
Brown sugar to taste
Food coloring (optional)
Fresh ginger (optional)
Pour the glutinous rice flour in a bowl and slowly add water until the mixture becomes the texture of dough. You may not need the entire 4 ounces of water to reach the proper consistency. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. You can divide the dough in half and add food coloring to one half.

Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll it into small balls.

Drop the balls into boiling water and cook them until they float - about 5 to 10 minutes.

While the balls are cooking, prepare a sweet soup by boiling water and adding brown sugar. Fresh ginger can also be added to the soup.

Put the cooked balls into the soup and serve.

Tong Yuan can also be stuffed with a paste made from peanut butter, black sesame seeds or red beans.

1`. Wikipedia
2. About Food. Com

Foochow Sii Yian or Glutinous Rice Balls

Several days before Christmas Chinese usually.. get ready for the last festival of the Chinese lunar calendar called Winter Festival which falls on the Winter Solstice itself.

(The Sarawak Almanac will tell you exactly when Winter Solstice is...this year it falls on 21st Dec - on Sunday)

Early on Sunday morning (yesterday) like any good Foochow mother I took out my packets of glutinous rice flour and soy bean and peanut powder to make the Sii Yian or tang yuen - the Foochow dry style.

This is the traditional way we eat Sii Yian - like satay or kebabs - pushing the sii yian through a chopstick. I like to eat mine this way as it makes me feel good and so do my children. It has such a happy and loving traditional atmosphere when we eat it this way.

This is how I made the sii on....

You need only half a packet of glutinous rice flour and some water . Knead into a lovely dough for several minutes and then divide the dough into small rolls like these. If there are more helping you you can have more rolls. Just take a bit off the roll and start using two hands to make the small balls or sii yian or tan yuen. Old Foochow word is Che.

Here on my left hand are two pieces of wet glutinous rice flour. I am trying to make two balls at the same time. Can you make three or four at the same time? Try.

These two packets are pounded/blended/grinded soy bean powder and roasted peanut powder. They are available at the market for RM 2 this year!! Double the price of yesteryears because the price of petrol has gone up (??????) Consumers are suffering and especially housewives. But if we have more time we can make our own.

The rice balls are cooked when they are floating happily at the top of the boiling water. Leave them boiling for a longer period of time while you prepare the powdery coating with some sugar.

Coat the Si Yian (or glutinous balls in the soy bean and peanut powder)Add enough sugar to taste. I made about 56 pieces (small diameter of 3/4 inch). Normally we try to make ten sii yian for each person. Many Foochows would like to eat them the whole day through. If there are left overs we usually steam them for breakfast the next day. It depends on how much you make of course.

I will post the story of the Winter Solstice another time...Hope you are making some this year!!

Happy reunion!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Sarawak Almanac

The Sarawak Almanac is just so uniquely Sarawak that I cannot really explain to someone who does not see it as thus.

I cannot remember exactly when I started using one as it has always been around me. But the first time I was "awarded" one was when I taught in the Limbang Government School in 1974 and the Principal gave out one to each Head of Department. It thus became a kind of "award and or reward" for a Sarawak civil servant who has a "position which requires an Almanac". That is how I look at it in one way. Government bodies are given free limited copies in the past. I am not sure about the situation now. Those who hold lesser posts have to buy their own or just have to refer to the free ones lying around the staff room. There were even small jealousies caused by the awarding of the Almanac. Little trickling of " kiasuism " over a small government issued Almanac.

Years later I found out that some friends who used to serve in Sarawak also treasure it and I started giving the Almanac as gifts. Several years ago I made the Almanac my special Christmas gift and sent them out as postal gifts to these Friends of Sarawak i.e. friends who have served alongside me in Sarawak and are now back home in their own countries. But because of mobility and cost of postage and also the Internet a calendar slowly becomes just a desk top or shelf top item rather than a necessity like in the olden days.

I was very happy when a friend wrote from overseas "now I can tell when Chinese New Year is exactly without having to go to Chinatown" using the Almanac I sent.

The Sarawak Almanac has three calendars in one ie Gregorian and Lunar and Muslim calendars!! It is indeed a unusual reference.

This is my 2008 Almanac . By the way I received a free one at the beginning of year when the company offered me a spare copy after giving out to all the Heads of Department. This gift is really treasured and sits on my small desk. My reading glasses are kept at its traingular base for quick retrieval.

What I like most about the almanac is the chronology printed at the back of each month. I can easily refer to the some very significant years and historical incidents by just flipping the pages and there I have easy references from 1842 until this present year. Do you know that a Cutch factory was built in Sarikei District? When was that? Check out the Almanac.

This is a Brooke legacy . For those who do not know much about pre-1963 Malaysian - Sarawak History the Almanac is indeed a good quick history fix.

The Almanac is useful because it has a complete page for school terms and holidays.

It also has other important facts like king tide predictions and all the Chinese Festivals and Muslim Festivals and with lots of details too.

So for a mere (hopefully controlled) price of RM6.50 in the free market it is a very very good calendar to buy.

It is indeed an uniquely Sarawak item. One of a kind in the world!!

Don't leave Sarawak without one! (replicating the Visa advertisement) and to all my fellow Sarawakians do value this little treasure!


web statistics