Extended tools – Muffin cups

I bought my first set of muffin cups when I was still a student back in 1995. It used it once to cook blueberry muffins in a toaster oven. I was the best muffin I ever had.

Muffin cups

Muffin cups

Then, the cups went into storage and stayed there till 2011. Just taking up space and adding to clutter. That’s how much use I made of my muffin cups. Well, this year, I vowed to make the most of my kitchen tools. Use them lovingly and as insanely often as I can. So when I move, I can trash them with a clear conscience that they had served their purpose in life and deserved their space in the landfill. Read the rest of this entry »

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Flour Tortilla

Flour Tortilla

It occurs to me that recipes normally contains list of ingredients and steps. But usually, they do not contain the ‘reasons’ or explanations for those ingredients and steps. And for a newbie cook, the recipe can be quite indecipherable.

This is my first time making tortilla in my room without proper kitchen. And it was so easy and wonderful, I made it again. I went through several recipes and several online videos and combine their wisdom into the process.

That’s why the reasons for the ingredients and steps are important to me. I need to know which attributes are key ones, what I can substitute for due to my space and pantry variety constraints and the fact that I do not have a flat pan. I do have a flat bottomed thick pot.

So, here’s the summary of what I found out and what I did to make it work.

If it’s too confusing, the normal format recipe is in bold.

You can ignore the ratio & reasons section and the non-bolded text in the steps.

They are only important if you want variation, alternatives or troubleshoot.

Based on Jason Hill’s video and ifoodtv.com.
Easy enough that it was successful on first try and the measurements are flexible and forgiving, so no need to be too exact.

Homemade Tortilla

Homemade Tortilla

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There is Japanese Shinto Priest living in our Birdhouse

Every year, coming home for CNY is like an adventure tour. My dad likes to try out new plants and there’s always something fruiting, flowering and twittering in our garden and the tree/grass/weed lined road shoulder.

This year, I arrived home at 8pm to find my parents had packed takoyaki and sushi to snack on while driving to and from the airport to fetch me. Not one pack, but two each! I love Japanese food. My family, not so much. Malaysians love their local cuisines, being tasty and amalgam of several cultures and being in the centre of spices and old world spice-trade. So, they’ve been spoilt with amazing hawker food, thai, chinese, malay, indian, indonesian, western …. Japanese is both expensive and rather bland to Malaysian tastebuds.

So, I was surprised that my parents, willingly buy and consume these. Not any ordinary takoyaki with octopus, oh no. It’s unagi and abalone (real stuff, not surimi) takoyaki. Because Malaysians still want to have their own stamp on imported recipe. It’s not ham and cheese, it’s chicken and cheese coz we have to think of our muslim and hindu friends. And they love wasabi too! I know wasabi is mild and no big deal to them, since they plant and consume bird’s-eye chilli (aka cili padi, cabai burung, little bomb) which is the spiciest chilli you can find around here.

While I was contemplating the joy of dragging my parents for sashimi and tempura, mom dropped another bomb. There is a Japanese Shinto Priest living in our Birdhouse!

Now, if you’re wondering if it’s a figurine shinto priest with the hat and paper duster, bought to ornament a birdhouse hanging up on a convenient tree, I don’t blame you. This being Malaysia, there are certain definitions to be made, esp when words have acquired new meanings in the past 2 years.

It is as literal as my mom puts it. It’s a real live human of Japanese origin, living in a 3-story building specifically built to house swiftlets by the hundreds and by the thousands.

Swiftlet farming is a big thing in Malaysia now. They build the house to resemble a dark dank cave, then helpfully send invites out in bird language to call the passing avian to come live there. Lodging is free. Food is self-catered. Security from predators is guaranteed. Convenient perches suitable for short bird feet are plentiful. The birds build their nest and raise their young in there. And the little chicks grow up to meet other chicks and build their own nests right next to their Mama and Papa. That’s the idea anyway. The humans goes in once a while to remove a nest that is no longer needed (aka when the nestling has flown the nest). After all, we wouldn’t want the birds to get lazy and use hand-me-downs for the next baby. Then the nests are made into soup, dessert, cosmetics and even tim sum. So, if you think Malaysians would be ick’ed out from eating weird stuff, you’d be wrong. Sea cucumber, mantis-prawn, stingray, frog, snail, raw fish, fish maw, chicken feet, animal blood, ear, eyes, internal organs are delicacies. So, they wouldn’t think twice about eating congealed bird saliva, or what is commonly known as ‘bird’s nest’.

The Shinto Priest is actually a Psychic Researcher and a zomg! honest to goodness genuine priest who went around chanting and purify places and agricultural farms to promote health and well-being. He had the paper swish thing that reminded me of a feather duster. And an elongated pentagon shaped wooden stick. And a stone to receive ‘bad energy’ and dispel it. And a framed calligraphy that might serve as altar foci, framed like you would a picture of Christ or Buddha. We’re not quite sure what it is, I should have dad translate the kanji for me to see if I can divine it’s role in the ritual.

The research part is to see how effective the purification is, ie the Psychic research.

It was with some relish that my family tell tales of our strange ‘house’ guest. Like my brother and his friends and my dad being roped in to chant every morning and evening in Japanese. And picking up a few Japanese words. And feeling quite amused and trying not to laugh. Or my dad being assistant priest, following him around with a glass of water and a bowl of salt to purify the infertile land surrounding the birdhouse where dad hoped to turn into a profitable small farm.

Indeed, it amused and puzzled my parents why he did not want to stay at our house or at a hotel. Even though our 2-storey house has 2 empty bedrooms (with the rest of the kids not home for CNY yet). The birdhouse and my dad’s fledging farm becomes his research subject, so he’d rather stay close (or in it rather) along with the mosquitos and 2 rambunctious farm dogs. It was in the middle of no where. Well, not exactly completely isolated, since there are several kampung houses, a herd of goats, several clutches of chicken, a herd of cows and a construction of light industrial park just outside the gate. But it’s not exactly convenient to hail a cab, buy dinner or get to a shop.

My family, not speaking a word of Japanese and don’t even watch Anime, trying to communicate with our house guest is … as my dad puts it … like chicken and duck talk. Good thing he has an impressive portable pocket translation book for 6 languages, which impresses my travel-savvy parental units. And mostly got around complex concept by writting Kanji or chinese characters, which both my parents can read. So, you think inter-cultural language barrier usually ends up with just sign language to fill the gap? No, it uses written words too. Well, you could say it is unique to speakers of Chinese-languages/Taiwanese/Japanese/Korean since the writting system was derived from ancient China.

Oh! The thing is … whenever Chinese and Japanese meet, they want to compare character pronunciation. So, I did write my name in Chinese characters to see how he would translate that. So, for the record, my Nihon name is Ou Kei-Ou.

For the record, I should thank my obsession with PoT that I know where and what is Kanagawa. If he’s from Rikkai Dai, I’d thought I just got off in the wrong dimension at the airport. And the fact that my research into Shinto beliefs and practices helped to explain some of the idea our guest was trying to convey. And I can translate Tsubame to swallow, which is what the swiftlets are commonly called. Yes, so Fuji, thanks for Tsubame Gaeshi, a term I’d never thought I would ever use or hear in real life. And also to Ootori for ‘tori’ = bird.

Anyway, that’s just the first day and there are a lot more wonders that I have not mentioned or this will be a very long and convoluted digressing post. I just thought the title is too good to pass up for an article.

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Internet Personae: Inner and Outer worlds

Internet Personae: Inner and Outer worlds

So, while doing research for INTJ childhood experiences, with an eye for ‘how they get into trouble’, I found a reference to Typealyzer. It reads a blog, analyses it and spits out the MBTI type of the writer of  blog. Being curious, I put in several links of the sites I frequent or project my persona into. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mandarin language: 子

Chinese languages can be really simple or frustrating.

One of the often used and easiest word to write in Mandarin is 子. Phonetically notated in pinyin as zǐ (zi3) and others as tze, tzu, tzi. Yes, even the pronunciation for this simple word is quite a challenge. You see, 子 does not exactly have an equivalent consonant and vowel sound in English. The consonant is closer to ch in change with a z thrown in. The vowel part of the word is almost a non-sound. It’s a vowel, nonetheless, and the difficulty has nothing to do with the tonal nature of Chinese languages. Try making a punctured tire sound chssss … and it’s pretty close. Read the rest of this entry »

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Judo – a writer’s perspective

Most times, I like to write about things I have absolutely no idea about. You see, if I know something, it’s done, boring. So I set up a writting project, which contains many elements that I’m either completely ignorant or have very little idea about. What surprised me in this project turned out to be my own reaction to some casual research. Read the rest of this entry »

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Leftover Evolutions Part 2: Mutation

I have been dealing with the challenges of leftovers last week that has rolled over into this week. In case you missed the first part, check out Leftover Evolutions Part 1.

I’ve been thinking about how to use up my leftover potatoes and onions. I was vaguely toying with the idea of baking them in toaster oven. I’ve just bought 3 aluminium foil disposable bread tins with no real idea what to do with them.

I had originally thought of throwing one large onion and one large potato into the oven (whole, with skin) and let it char-bake. Then again, not so good idea. It could get messy. Wrapped in aluminium foil then? But I don’t think I want to peel hot onion and eat it like oranges. So I thought, why not cut it up in rings and bake that with herbs. So as I was mulling this while walking home, a friend asked what I was having for dinner. So I just said baked potato and onion rings. Then I did a double take and said, not that onion rings. What was it then?

It’s still baked potato and onion rings, just not what you’d normally think as baked potato AND onion rings. I swear I didn’t plan this till I was arranging the onions and spicing them up for baking. The onions infected the potato!

Mutated baked potato and onion rings

Recipe:

  • 1 Onion – cut into thick 1/2 cm rings
  • 1 potato – diced small 1/2 cubes
  • Separate onion rings and put into baking tin
  • Olive oil – Drizzle over onion rings (extra virgin if possible, use butter for unhealthier yum)
  • Italian herbs – Sprinkle generous amount over onions.
  • Stir and mix well.
  • Arrange onion rings to line the bottom in several layers.
  • Toss potato in olive oil.
  • Put potato cubes on onion rings, arrange evenly.
  • Sprinkle more italian herbs.
  • Sprinkle salt over dish.
  • Cover with aluminium foil
  • Put in toaster oven and bake (top and bottom heat) for 20 minutes.
  • Take out and check potato is soft and cooked.
  • Take fork/spoon and mix potato and onion up.
  • Sprinkle more salt if not salty enough.
  • Squeeze some lime juice over all.
  • Cut chunks of Laughing Cow soft cheese and sprinkle on top.

This time it’s a rather colourless dish compared to the flamboyant earlier incarnations. So I decided to add the cheese for accents when I decided to take photos.  So this dish is a study of subtle tones and shades. It’s not only pretty, but very yum!

Oh! On the plus side, I didn’t buy ANY new ingredients hence no new leftovers.

Current leftover survivors – 1 potato, 1 onion, 1/4 lime, 1/2 bottle spaghetti sauce.

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