Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Public holidays and cooking

I'm glad my laptop computer has been revived. Two weeks ago, it 'died' unexpectedly when one morning, I switched it on and nothing happened. We sent it for repair and they said there was a problem with the motherboard. It cost quite a bit for the repair and replacement of a new battery as the old one was also 'dying'. However, it's still cheaper than buying a brand new laptop.

We have a number of public holidays between last week and this. Last Thursday was the Prophet Muhammad's birthday and Sunday was Thaipusam, making Monday a holiday too. So if you had taken Friday off, you'd have a five-day weekend. We didn't take Friday off however since C still had to go to school. But on Sunday, we went over to E's sister's home and together with E's brother's family and parents, the entire 'clan' got together for a one-night sleepover. The kids enjoyed themselves playing toys, games and swimming. This Friday, February 1, is another holiday for those in Kuala Lumpur as it's Federal Territory Day. I think I shall be giving Rusty a long overdue haircut. His fur is so long that I can hardly see his eyes now!

I'm back to my 'experiments' in the kitchen and C did one too recently with her own kid's cookbook. She made some merengues by whisking some egg whites with sugar and baked them in the oven.

My regular visits to recipe sites and re-visits of my various cookbooks got me concocting food using whatever I have in my fridge in order to not let stuff that have been sitting in there go to waste. Most of the time they are stuff like spices and sauces leftover from my other experiments with new recipes.

Last week I made chicken baked with honey and mustard. That was to use up the mustard I got some time back for mustard pork chops. However, it still didn't get used up, so I made hotdogs and that still didn't deplete the mustard supply....

Then one day, I was wondering what to do with leftover bread which weren't as soft as when fresh. I would usually toast them or make French toast with them but I was getting bored with doing that and found a simple recipe for what they call 'egg in a nest'. C liked the novelty of have a fried egg inside a hole of a slice of bread and that got her into the kitchen with me too.

I also have breadcrumbs sitting in the fridge from my experiment with crabmeat patties in the past. These patties contain lemon zest. E liked it but not C.

Last night, I used the breadcrumbs for a Western meal of pan fried breaded chicken thighs....and I still didn't use up all the breadcrumbs....I made a cheesy gravy to go with the chicken and potatoes.

And now while writing this, I'm trying to think of tonight's dinner menu. Although I enjoy cooking, there are days when I wish I could snap my fingers and delicious food would appear. Sometimes, it gets tiring when you think of all you have to do to get just a meal on the table.

You need to get stuck in a traffic jam to go to the market, decide what to buy from all the varieties of meat, seafood, vegetables etc, consider what your family members like and will or will not eat, consider the price and ease of using that particular food or ingredient. Then when you get home with your purchases, you have to sort, clean and store them. When it comes to cooking, you need to thaw, prepare, chop, marinate or do whatever is needed for the recipe. Then comes the actual cooking and washing up the utensils after cooking. So much time and effort to prepare a meal that's just gobbled up within half an hour....

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chinese New Year thoughts

We're still in the first month of the year and I feel as if so much has happened around us. A number of events recently caught our attention: a YouTube video of a forum held at a public university whereby a panelist displayed her ugly self by intimidating a student, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's confession to Oprah, the terrorist hostage incident in an Algerian gas plant, yesterday's Malaysian stock market plunge due to uncertainties created by the impending general election, and a six-year-old boy who has been missing for five days. Meanwhile, the weekend newspapers are plasterd with advertisements of sales of food, clothing, furniture, household items for the coming Chinese New Year of the Snake. Malls and supermarkets are blaring away CNY songs and displaying all the goodies on sale.

As usual, we celebrate festivals in a simple and quiet way. Unlike the more traditional families, we don't make it a point to spring clean, wash the entire house, change curtains and furniture, replace all things old with new ones, cook a ton of festive dishes or bake loads of cookies and cakes. This is all too overwhelming for me. Now that we are living in a larger home, it's even worse. I can't even keep up with the daily tidying let alone spring clean! I think this generation is one that is too caught up with consuming and accumulating material things and therefore, we have things cluttering the home.

It's different from the days of my parents' and grandparents' generation. Families were larger, lived closer to each other, lives were simpler. So when it came to festivities, everyone went all out to make it grand. The community spirit was greater then. They helped each other clean homes, paint walls, bake cookies, sew new clothes and cook. Back then, special dishes and delicacies were only enjoyed during festivals. I remember eating meat floss and dried barbecued meat ('bak kwa') during CNY but now you can get these anytime from a shop. There was no 'yee sang' to 'lou sang'. Roast duck, chicken, expensive fish and prawns were eaten only a few times a year. Now, you can eat them anytime. What was considered 'special' back then is now everyday fare.

But of course, the spirit of any festival should not just lie in the food, decor and having all things new, presents, angpows or whatever. It should be a time of celebration and thanksgiving for all the blessings we have received, our family, love, health, safety etc. That's how most festivals originate anyway and that's why whether it's a religious or cultural festival, people will include the act of worship and prayers as part of the celebration. According to history, the Chinese New Year was celebrated because people marked the spring and new year of planting crops, while legend also speaks of people rejoicing over the defeat of an evil monster that terrorised them after they made loud noises (hence firecrackers) to scare it away. Although Chinese New Year is a cultural festival, many Chinese also include worship and prayers in their activities. The Buddhists and Taoists visit temples and churches also hold special services, for example.

So in my opinion, it's good to know why we are celebrating a festival, and impart it to the next generation so that the knowledge and tradition will not be lost in this seamless, global, high-tech world where everyone seems to be celebrating everything, sometimes without realising its significance...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Still on first gear

I couldn't think of an appropriate title for this post but the above describes my 'speed' at the moment after six days into 2013. Yesterday I finally decided on my new year resolutions! Forming them in my mind and putting them down on paper sounds easy now that that's done. Working on them is another story....So now I'm still on first gear. Realising your resolutions is like driving a manual shift car. You can't just put it into 'D' like an automatic car, step on the pedal, and expect the gears to shift themselves.

This year, one resolution is to eat more fruits and veges and exercise. My recent medical checkup indicates that I need to. I am at my heaviest in my entire life, have access body fat, lack muscles, and have below normal metabolism. Back in the day, when I was a teenager and in my 20s, I was scrawny and underweight. I could wear XS-sized clothes.

I remember when I used to be fit when I was in my early 30s. Spending four days outdoors every two weeks for two years climbing hills, trekking jungles, canoeing in seas and rivers, camping under hole-y tents, waking before dawn to exercise, breathing in relatively fresh air and being amidst greenery helped build some muscles and fitness. I'm glad that my job gave me that opportunity then. Now in this job, I wake just after dawn, prepare breakfast, do laundry, cook, sit in the car and in front of the computer.

Yesterday, my notebook suddenly decided to become Sleeping Beauty. I turned it on but it didn't boot up or show anything on the screen. E checked it and tried the various necessary things to resuscitate it but it was in vain. I take it as a sign that I should cut down my internet and computer time and use it as needed for real work only. Having our desktop on the third floor of our home now helps I guess. When it's not in front of me I'd be less tempted to keep it on all day long and poke my nose into what my Facebook friends are doing, read unnecessary stuff online or surf.

I hope that will make me get on my feet, be active physically and spend more time doing other more beneficial stuff.

And I shall sign out now before I get sucked into the dark hole of the online world!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

...and 2013 is here!

Happy New Year! 2013 still feels fresh and new as it's only the second day of the year today. It's funny how the end of one year and the beginning of another always gives that 'the old has gone, the new has come' feeling. At the end of the year, we look back and take stock of what we didn't accomplish and rush about to try to do it. 'Spring' cleaning at winter time. Then, we start making new resolutions that we once again hope to achieve, only to slowly forget to work hard on them as we procrastinate and tell ourselves there's lots more time before the year ends. I'm simply speaking in general as there are people who are super-disciplined and seriously keep track of theirs goals and resolutions.

For the first time, in 2012, ACE made three resolutions each. I remember on 31 December 2011, we sat down together around a large piece of 'mahjong' paper, divided it into three columns and wrote our resolutions down. C then illustrated them with her simple drawings. That piece of paper was stuck to one of the doors in our room for the entire year and slowly, it became an insignificant part of the room, like it was invisible as we passed the door daily, like a forgotten picture frame on the wall! Hahaha.....but there were times, though rare, that I looked at it and thought about how we fared at that point in time in keeping those resolutions. Out of the three resolutions, we managed to achieve one each by 31st Dec 2012. If we were graded, it would have been only 33.33 per cent....

For 2013, we've yet to do the same 'mahjong' paper thingy despite having reminded ourselves that we need to think about our new resolutions. We were busy and tired on 31st Dec 2012 having made a day trip to Seremban and Melaka that day. We didn't even stay up till midnight as a family. It's still not too late so I shall try and get us thinking and writing them down again, although not necessarily on 'mahjong' paper. As parents now, I think it's a good activity to have with C. It helps with providing some learning opportunities, direction and focus.

C and E are back to school and work today. I had feared that we'd have difficulty getting up at 6.00 am but surprisingly we managed. C even got up on her own to her alarm clock. That hardly ever happened last year. Last night she said she was rather excited about going back to school so I guess that had 'primed' her brain to wake up this morning. Her excitement was evident this morning with her chattiness. She said she was looking forward to checking on 'latest developments' which I suspect is about classroom gossip, as well as what new storybooks her school library has. Well, that's typically C. Who her class teacher and other teachers will be, the changes the school is facing this year (movement of students and some of her old classmates to the international school syllabus the school is now offering) are the least of her worries, unlike me when I was her age.

I wasn't as self-confident as C back then and used to feel nervous on the first day of school every year, despite knowing that I'd have the same friends in my class. I didn't take to changes well, especially with new teachers. And I remember when I was in Standard 3, we had the worst teacher any nine-year-old could have. She was strict to the point of being abusive verbally and physically that a number of parents complained to the principal. Looking back, it was indeed a terrifying time for all of us in that class. Imagine getting slapped for handing up your work 'too early', grounded without food for the entire recess time because we were noisy, getting whacked on the back with the gigantic wooden ruler used for drawing lines on the blackboard if you couldn't answer correctly, and a few more horrific abuses I shan't mention .... we literally cowered with fear everytime that teacher came into class.

Sigh, but we survived and a number of my classmates and I remain good friends till today, having shared such memories plus more wonderful and fun ones as we continued into our teenage years until Form 5 and now into parenthood.

Indeed, the end of an 'old' year and the beginning of a new year is a good time to reflect and count our blessings.