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Last Monday, we came home after a weekend away in Penang to a tripped circuit breaker, and a refrigerator that had been off for god knows how long. The electric gate wasn’t working and the back up battery for the house alarm needed to be replaced. Luckily I didn’t have that much perishables in the fridge, except for a chicken. So, even though I came home with dinner my mother had packed for me – tau eu bak (pork in soya sauce), jiu hu char (stir-fried jicama) and lor bak (pork rolls), I proceeded to make dinner.

It was also an excuse to try out the cast iron pot I had lugged back from Sydney. I had been resisting buying one because it is pricey, I have lots of pots, there is no storage space and I will probably only use it three times year. But I was staying down the road from Victoria’s Basement – an outlet shop for kitchen goods – and I had enough luggage allowance to bring back a 4.6kg pot because the sum of my shopping in Sydney were a cap and a clutch. Plus the pot was in the colour aubergine!

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It was also nice to be able to cook in my own kitchen and to sit down to a meal with my daughter. Prior to Penang, I was in Sydney on assignment and for a short break. I have a good friend whom I stayed with in a beautiful house in a nice neighbourhood. The house faces a park, with nice cafes and restaurants within walking distance. So for a few days I just walked around Sydney, took the ferry to Manly, tested a camera I am thinking of buying, and ate well. In Sydney, I ate Italian, French, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mexican, and of course had calamari (not fish) and chips, pies and drank loads of good coffee. I even managed to sneak in a gelato in memory of a previous trip when my mother-in-law, my daughter and I had a different flavoured gelato every evening we were there.

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Making dinner was also a good way of getting back to the grind, to regular life, and to appreciate ordinary days. The days and years are passing by too quickly – we were in Penang for my niece’s 6th birthday party – a grand children’s party with a clown that makes balloon sculptures, magic shows, led them in chicken dance and whacking the pinata. I dont know when the babies become pretty girls, but I know they will soon be teenagers.

I also visited two women I am very fond of in the hospital – both are the best cooks and I had many wonderful meals at their tables. They were always full of energy and vigour, and were always up and about doing things. So, it was hard and sad seeing them unwell and frail.

There has been no letting up of bad news lately, and it feels like there are always tears welling in my eyes. It feels like there is a collective sadness these last few months – from the loss of MH370 to the passing of Irene Fernandez and Karpal Singh. Yesterday I closed my eyes as I poured cold water over my head to wash my hair, and thoughts of schoolchildren drowning in the Korean ferry tragedy flashed in my head. I was frightened for them, and I can’t imagine the anguish of those parents receiving the texts and calls from their children in those last moments and living with their loss.

People say we should live our life to its fullest, YOLO and all that – I don’t really know what that means. I try to appreciate the good people and good things in my life, even as I brace for the downsides that come as life unfolds. In the meantime, I do what I hope is right – teach the little one life skills so she’d be independent and useful, and make sure she knows she is loved. This was how I was loved and this is how I will love.

In my family and circle of friends, it means feeding everyone well. I knew that Monday evening that this was the dish I wanted to cook – the recipe for this chicken dish with red dates and wolfberries was given to me by my friend whose mother I hope is recuperating well. Some of my best days were spent at this friend’s table as she brought out her mother’s dishes – sometimes leftovers from different meals because auntie was an enthusiastic cook who never runs out of ideas – all of which I happily devoured.

 

Avocado and lemon pasta

On April 5, 2014 By

It’s a rainy Saturday morning, and these days the pitter patter of rain on the roof is a welcome sound. I still have buckets filled with water even though there is no announcement of water rationing in my area. I have loads of errands to run, starting with cleaning out the fridge. With food prices [...]

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Ayam Masak Merah

On March 31, 2014 By

Sunday started out hot and scorching, and I wanted ayam masak merah with nasi lemak for breakfast. But my aunt made keow teow soup, so we had that instead. I googled ayam masak merah recipes, and thought I’d make it for lunch. But there was a long queue at the chicken section in the supermarket [...]

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Our usual Sunday roast is more often than not plain chicken with lemon. I have been trying forever to get my roast chicken right consistently, and that meanns crispy chicken, tender breast and just-nicely done thighs. I scour every roast chicken recipe to check their roasting time, and I have tried different ways – from [...]

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Pegaga Tabouleh

On October 25, 2013 By

I am still fascinated with pegaga, and now I also really like ulam raja. I have been having rice with ulam raja, sambal belacan and fried salted fish at home and in my mom’s house, and in Malay restaurants and stalls these last two weeks. Anyway, I digress… in between my ulam raja meals, I [...]

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Pegaga Mallung (Salad)

On September 15, 2013 By

I have never cooked with pegaga, and didn’t even know what it looked like though the name is familiar. Like all herbs, I knew pegaga or pennyworts, has all kinds of medicinal uses and it has been said to cure everything from sore throat to infertility. It’s also supposed to contain anti-ageing properties, and some [...]

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Acar Fish

On July 27, 2013 By

ACAR fish is one of my favourite Peranakan dishes. It literally translates to pickled fish, but in our house we never leave it long enough to pickle in the vinegar mixture. It’s essentially fried fish topped with fried slices of garlic, ginger and tumeric, with a sauce made of vinegar and sugar. It’s usually garnished [...]

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Sambal Ikan Bilis

On June 24, 2013 By

    Last Saturday, we woke up to smoky air that had permeated into our rooms, even with all the doors and windows shut. And the air quality was only moderately hazardous in KL, can’t imagine what it’s like for people down south where the API reading had spiked at 746 in Muar. But it’s [...]

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Salted Fish Curry

On April 7, 2013 By

This is one of my favourite curries – salted fish and vegetables curry, with beans and anchovies. It’s only served on Sundays at the Sultania Restaurant on Lebuh Queen, right smack in Penang’s Little India. I have only had it twice or maybe thrice; somehow my trips back to Penang haven’t allowed for all that [...]

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Baking Bread With Indra

On January 24, 2013 By

Some day I’ll bake soft and fluffy buns like these – and I’ll do it without breaking a sweat… like my friend and breadmaking teacher Indra. In the few hours of lesson I had in her kitchen, Indra has somehow convinced me I can bake bread. With the most reassuring and inspirational confidence, she made [...]

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