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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.

 

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