Friday, July 30, 2010

Music benefits the brain, research reveals

Here's another article that reiterates the benefits of music, particularly learning to play music.

Northwestern University scientists have pulled together a review of research into what music -- specifically, learning to play music -- does to humans. The result shows music training does far more than allow us to entertain ourselves and others by playing an instrument or singing. Instead, it actually changes our brains.

The paper, just published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, is a compilation of research findings from scientists all over the world who used all kinds of research methods. The bottom line to all these studies: musical training has a profound impact on other skills including speech and language, memory and attention, and even the ability to convey emotions vocally.

So what is it that musical training does?


Read on here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Abok abok sago

Today I attempted abok abok sago. I remember learning how to make it when I was in Form One or Two for my Home Economics class. That version required banana leaves where you wrap the sago in a pyramid-like shape with the leaves. The recipe I used today simply requires you to steam it in a tray.

Here's a picture of the final result. It didn't turn out perfect as there were some grains of sago that didn't cook through. I increased the steaming time a little to try getting the grains cooked, and what turned out was a slightly tough, chewy 'kuih' instead of a soft, moist one.

Oh well, as long as it still can be eaten!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Perseverance

It's strange how children tend to listen to other adults like their aunts, uncles or teachers more willingly than their own parents. It's like God made them our children to test us parents more so that we can be better people/parents (looking at the positive side!).

It's always been an uphill battle daily for me to get Caitlin to practise her musical instruments. While she enjoys the lessons, practising is another thing. She finds it hard to put in extra effort to learn something new as she is impatient and wants to get it right at the first time itself.

However, it was surprisingly different yesterday. That's where the part about listening to other adults instead of parents comes in. At chapel session in school, they were taught the lesson of perseverance. The teacher showed them Horton Hears A Who. It's a movie she's watched before. We took her to the theatre to see it and she enjoyed it. I remember sharing with her the moral of the story too; even with the other Horton story we read together - Horton Hatches The Egg. But I guess it somehow didn't hit home when it was me telling her.


After she told me about her lesson about perseverance with Horton, I took the opportunity to remind her about it while we were practising the piano. It hit home this time and on her own accord, she just kept practising one piece repeatedly. She could tell she was improving slowly with more practice and was happy about the outcome. Later at night, she did the same with her drums. She was happy. So was I.

This morning, she said "I'm going to have perseverance again today." It was a heartwarming moment. I hope this attitude can continue forever!

P.S.  I'm reminded to have perseverance too, I guess.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Upside down Thursday

It's Thursday again today. Last week, I missed my Cooking Thursday. I can't remember why. I must have been occupied with something else. I've been meaning to try my hand at making the old classic pineapple upside down cake for some time and had scoured the internet to look for an easy recipe.

Believe me, when I Googled 'pineapple upside down cake', it presented me with tons of recipes. Some called for unsalted butter and brown sugar, some said I had to use a skillet, and uncommon ingredients, etc etc. All that put me off. I'm the lazy type when it comes to cooking -- the recipes must be simple to follow, the ingredients easy to find, and the dish is something that fussy eaters here will eat or at least try.

I happened to be at a bookstore a few weeks ago and chanced upon a handy pocket-sized recipe booklet with the cover photo of  pineapple upside down cake! It was like it was calling out to me. Although I have more than enough cookbooks that I read and hardly use their recipes, I couldn't resist getting just another one for my collection. It was only RM9.90 so I didn't feel too guilty. It's by Betty Saw, a well-known local 'celebrity' cook and cookbook author.



Well, enough of my longwinded intro.  Here's the result of today's Cooking Thursday, out from the oven not too long ago (pardon the poor quality pic again, just too lazy to climb upstairs to get the proper camera!).

It's without the maraschino cherries and pineapple cream. Although the touch of red could have made it look more attractive, I was being practical. I didn't want to purposely go out to get the cherries which will end up being dug out and dumped into the dustbin because people here don't like the taste of it -- it's like a combi of cough medicine and cockroach (it's usually flavoured with oil of bitter almond). Plus, I don't think it's healthy food due to the preservatives and food colouring used. The same goes for the pineapple cream. I already used a whole block (250g) of butter and 250g of sugar for the cake. I think we can do without the additional 250g of butter and 150g for the decorative cream (as shown in the picture above). 

Now, what shall I do with this nine-inch square cake? There's only three of us at home. Gotta taste it first and see if it's 'passable' to be shared with 'outsiders'! Haha....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rollercoaster-ing

It's been a rather tiring few weeks lately. The demands of supervising a school-going child's academic and co-curricular (music education only in fact) progress can be quite draining if you have an eight-year-old who behaves like an 18-year-old! Plus the man of the house has been 'missing' quite a lot lately due to demands of his work during the just-over World Cup season, travelling outstation over weekends and returning late on weekdays.

After five years of being a SAHM, it's getting rather dull and boring for me more frequently lately as I chug along semi robot-like with the daily routines of home, school, childminding, cooking and blah, blah, blah (yeah, that does indicate my present state! LOL!)

I've toyed with a number of ideas and stuff that's been up in the air or on the backburner all this five years' long while, even some grandiose plans when I was all excited at the start of my new career as SAHM in 2005.

Some include getting more exercise, upgrading my writing skills by going for some writing courses (gosh, the choices are rather limited here and track record of those offering them don't seem greatly enticing to be honest), going for cooking classes, writing my great big novel, starting an hourly childcare service (on second thought, I must be crazy to have thought of this!), reading more 'serious' books, rekindling my on-off affair with music and the piano or even a new instrument....

Then last week, an old friend called and asked me to join in her idea of FUN in starting a blog (oh yes, yet another one which makes it seven in total for me...) that gives the "skinny on where to eat, stay and play" which is the tagline for the blog, appropriately named Two Skinny Moms. We've so far contributed one post each. Check it out here. Thanks, IC!

Last week, C's school organised Bahasa Malaysia Week and among the activities was a show-and-tell. In two weeks' time, it will be English Week and there'll be show-and-tell too.  Her English teacher has asked the class to start preparing for it and to present it to her today. Although the teacher told the class about it last week, this dear girl, as usual has to leave it to the last minute. She, and me and daddy of course(!), had to crack heads to come up with an interesting topic to show and tell. Gosh, this girl is super picky and turned down many of our suggestions until I suggested football, World Cup, and her favourite player. Then only, she got excited.

So she wrote her script last night, mostly about Kaka, the Brazilian football star she recently read about in a kid's magazine. We learnt that Kaka's full name is Ricardo Izeczon dos Santos Leite. No wonder why he's called Kaka! And he started his football career at age 8 with a local football club. What amazing talent!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Banana Bread

This banana bread recipe that my friend shared with me is from the Joy of Baking website. Click here to view the recipe in the site. Otherwise, here it is.

















Banana Bread

Ingredients:
1 cup (115 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
1 3/4 cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 ripe large bananas (approximately 1 pound or 454 grams), mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place oven rack to middle position. Butter and flour (or spray with a non stick vegetable/flour spray) the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf pan. Set aside.

Place the nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Let cool and then chop coarsely.

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nuts. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients (banana mixture) into the dry ingredients just until combined and the batter is thick and chunky. (The important thing is not to over mix the batter. You do not want it smooth. Over mixing the batter will yield tough, rubbery bread.) Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 to 60 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove the bread from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. This bread can be frozen.

Makes one 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf.

Chwee Kueh

As mentioned yesterday, here's the recipe for Chwee Kueh

Ingredients:

Rice flour 150g
Corn flour 20 g
Water 300 ml
Oil 2 teaspoons
Salt 1/2 teasponn
Water 800 ml

Method:

Mix flours together, add 300 ml room temperature water and stir well until there are no lumps. Pour 800 ml water into a pot, add the oil and salt and heat it until it just begins to boil. Pour in the flour mixture slowly, stirring continuously to prevent lumping. When the mixture thickens to a gluey consistency, turn off the heat and continue stirring to form a thick, smooth batter. Spoon the batter into individual moulds and steam for 15 minutes.

Chai Po (topping)

Ingredients:

Toasted white sesame 1 tablespoon
Oil 200g
Garlic chopped 50g
Chai Po 300g
Dried shrimps 30g, pounded
Sugar 3 teaspoons
Salt 1 teaspoon
Dark soya sauce 1 teaspoon

Method:

Heat the oil in a wok/pan. Fry the chai po, dried shrimps and garlic. When aromatic, add the seasoning followed by the sesame. Stir to mix evenly.

To serve:

Remove chwee kueh from moulds and top them with chai po. Enjoy!

I am not a food blogger so please pardon the quality of this picture. It was taken with my camera phone and I did not spend time styling the food. I should have used a plate with a dark colour to contrast it with the whitish chwee kueh and piled on the topping more neatly, without those bits on the plate!

If you do not wish the topping to be too dark, you could use less dark soya sauce.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cooking Thursdays

For two consecutive Thursdays coincidentally, I've cooked something additional to the usual daily main meals.

I remember in my younger days, there was a man who sold 'chwee kueh' from a cart outside a grandaunt's house in Bandar Hilir, Melaka. Everytime we visited her and if the 'chwee kueh' seller was there, my mother would buy some for us to eat. I liked the taste of the steamed 'kueh' topped with 'chai po' (preserved vegetables) in a slightly sweet syrup if I remember correctly.

It so happened that some weeks back, I was again feasting my eyes on the lovely pictures posted by food bloggers on foodgawker, and came across one which featured 'chwee kueh'. This 'chwee kueh', however, is the savoury type with 'chai po', dried shrimps and salty seasoning, and not the sweet syrupy version I used to have back then. Unfortunately I didn't take note of the site and am not able to attribute it here.

Last Thursday, I had the chance and some extra time (plus I felt hungry and wanted to taste something different!) so I pulled out that recipe that I had copied, and made 'chwee kueh'. It turned out rather good and satisfied the pre-lunch hunger pangs.

Later, when my in-laws came for their weekly visit, we had them for tea. It went down pretty well with them as it was a good change from the usual cakes, cookies or nyonya kueh. My father-in-law finished most of it; hopefully because it was tasty!

Today, I printed out a recipe which a friend shared with me. It's for banana bread. I had some free time between making and serving dinner. And since I had enough bananas this week (compared to last week when I received the recipe), I decided to try out the recipe.

I have just removed the loaf from the oven and am letting it cool on the rack while we have dinner. I will try to post some pictures and share the recipes in the next post. I wonder if I'll be cooking something else new next Thursday....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Girls' afternoon out

Last weekend, E was away in Penang for work so on Saturday, I took Caitlin to watch Toy Story 3 in 3D. It was the second movie we've watched in 3D this year. The first was How To Train Your Dragon which till today she is still raving about. We both thoroughly enjoyed the show.

Caitlin was screaming, chuckling and exclaiming very loudly at all the funny and exciting scenes i.e. almost throughout the entire movie. Luckily, the cinema was dark (read: mommy will not be recognised and be embarrassed by her loud kid!) ) and everyone was too engrossed in the captivating movie to stare or glare at us for the noise she was making!

It was an enjoyable movie, with a rather touching scene towards the end. A number of friends who had already watched it told me to be prepared with some tissues. Luckily we didn't have to use the tissues! Amidst the humour and fun of the story, there was the underlying message of loyalty, love, sacrifice, family bond, courage, optimism, faith, true friendship and acceptance.

Caitlin's favourite part was when Buzz Lightyear had been accidentally switched to Spanish mode. It was very funny indeed actually.


Check out the official site here for more info, trailers and online games for children (and adults too, why not?). There are quite a number of fun online games plus activities to play and do.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Penang shots - Gurney Drive

A stall at the open air Gurney hawker 'centre'

A modern sculpture that now adorns the roundabout

A closer look at the sculpture

Highrise apartments have mushroomed rapidly in the recent decade

More and more commercial and high-end residential high rise buildings fronting the sea are taking up whatever little land that's still available


The only thing that's not changed - garbage!




Penang shots - through the car window


The typical Penang driver??