25 June 2012

No longer Kalai at Kalai

My family had an Indian food weekend. Most people are amazed that my kids, young as they are, are willing and able to handle hot, spicy Indian or Malay food.

My husband and I merely view it as a matter of exposure. We live in a country that is lucky to be blessed with a people of different races, cultures and religions, and despite the mess made by politicians we are truly a blessed land, with excellent geographics, resources and a colorful history.

Back to food.....I love Indian food. Actually, I love all food! And I am so grateful that my genetics do not predispose me to putting on weight. So, from the time my children were in my womb, they have been exposed to Indian food!

On Saturday, we had lunch at Kalai, an Indian banana-leaf rice restaurant in the Little India part of Ipoh. My boy with his sharp little eyes commented as soon as we sat down, "why is the name of Siva-something outside the restaurant?" I hadn't even noticed.

 I asked our server about it and he rather reluctantly said that there has been a change in the proprietorship of the restaurant. It was no longer run by Kalai and was now run by one Mr. Siva Raj Kumar (I think I got that right). The restaurant still looks the same on the inside.

But the food has changed somewhat. The curries have lost some edge to them....can't say exactly what. But not the way we liked them. The "rasam", that sour hot soup you get in little stainless steel cups, was also not as tasty and sour as before. The prawn sambal was a bit too watery, and the mutton curry was a lot less meaty than how Kalai served it.

Oh dear.....looks like we have to search for our family's new favourite banana-leaf rice place now. 

And for dinner on Sunday, we somehow decided on Pakeeza, a northern Indian restaurant not far from UOB Bank and our favourite pet shop. This time we didn't over-order, unlike last time! We had white rice and puri to go with the palak paneer (cheesy mushy spinach), fried chicken, sambal squid, spicy fish cakes, ladies fingers and lentils, and mutton curry. I must say my children are excellent in their ability to enjoy different types of food.
(pictures courtesy of ifood.tv and ez2cook.blogspot.com)

21 June 2012

Noni tree in my garden

Yes right here in Ipoh, Malaysia - in my unassuming humble garden, there grows a noni tree!

The noni fruit, famed for its anti-oxidant properties and purported ability to cure anything from diabetes to joint pains, has been known to the Polynesians for centuries.

The tree that grows, unidentified, in my garden was here even before our house was built. We saved it, as we have saved half a dozen old trees that grew on our land before we moved here. We designed our house around the old trees and only removed those that were in the way of the construction.

My maid from Indonesia, and hailing from a farming background, had looked hard at this tree and claimed that it was the same fruit that makes up one of the main ingredients of an expensive imported fruit juice we use as a supplement for our kids. Of course I didn't believe her.

I said noni only grew in Hawaii. Ha! How naive. I read up on it on her insistence, because she also claimed that at the major roundabout leading into town, there was also a noni tree standing on one of the empty parcels of land there.

Well, well, - it turns out that the noni tree is native to South East Asia (that's us!), tropical India and the Pacific islands. I scanned for images of the fruit and tree and voila! It's a match.

Our country's geographic location and climate makes it a treasure trove for plants and trees bearing unique and useful fruits, flowers and leaves, which medical science is today only discovering the quantum of health values within them! But all too often, our native fruits are naturalised elsewhere or commercially produced abroad where more advanced R&D turn them into something looking entirely different from their original physical appearance. These products are then marketed worldwide (and back to us!) with the economic gains also going to these more advanced countries.

Malaysia should harness our country's natural bounty and step up government investment into R&D to transform these resources into world-class products, that will then generate employment and GDP for Malaysia.

So, look hard at the wild trees in your own backyard, there may be a noni or two there!

I am going to pamper my wild noni with affection and fertilizer this very evening, and hope to be rewarded with lots of noni fruit to be blended for my family's consumption.

(Images used are from my online search for information on noni and not my own photographs - credit to simplythaiherbs.storenvy.com, taiwantrade.com.tw, treesandshrubs.about.com,tradewindsfruit.com)

14 June 2012

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

Remember this nursery rhyme?

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
So early in the morning.

Hailing from KL, the urban capital of Malaysia, I have not, until recently, seen a live mulberry bush. And my only knowledge of it is from the nursery rhyme.

And since this is a Western nursery rhyme, I also assumed that the mulberry comes from a 4-season geographic zone. Although at the back of my mind I remember vaguely it being the food of choice for silk worms -the famed little animals that China uses to produce its fabulous silk fabric that adorned emperors and empresses and all royal family members of ancient times, and in today's modern times still commands tremendous adoration. And China can get pretty cold right?

So I was very surprised to learn that the mulberry is actually native to Asia, and it grows very well here in Malaysia! My maid told me that as a child, she and her friends would climb the mulberry tree in her native Indonesia, sit on its branches and snack on the abundant mulberries the tree gives. My gardener also just told me the same thing - when he was a youngling, there were many mulberry trees in the part of Malaysia where he came from and he remembers the bunches of red berries hanging from the tree.

Wow! I am so excited about the mulberry because apparently, it is very easy to grow and fruits constantly. But it is a TREE not a bush! So the nursery rhyme has tricked me (and maybe you) into believing that the mulberry is but a small plant.

Anyway, I obtained my cutting of the mulberry tree from a very kind and generous couple. Their place of business is in a shop near the central market of Ipoh, and just a couple of shops away from the dentist that I took my maid to. Her sharp eyes spied the mulberry bush/ plant growing out of a broken pot in front of the shop. The tree looks aged, not very large but healthy. I spoke to the couple about the mulberry and they smilingly explained that many people have taken an interest in their mulberry tree. I noticed that they had done several grafting efforts on the branches of their mulberry.

The husband promptly inspected his tree and cut off a branch for me. I offered to pay for it, as that is only right. But the couple declined and said to just take it. How generous and kind! But I returned to the shop the next day with a bag of pastries and buns for the couple. Their simple gesture of gifting a branch from their tree to me, a stranger, really touched me.

Now the little mulberry branch has been planted into my garden, and I hope it will grow and thrive. Then my kids can dance around the mulberry bush and sing the rhyme!


13 June 2012

Standard Chartered is really bad..........

...............in my experience.

I have read some of my friends' complaints about banks like Citibank, Maybank etc. but never thought that grand old Stanchart could now fall into the category of bad customer service, arrogant attitude and irresponsible management of customer's accounts.

I am in the midst of helping my parents in their complaint to Stanchart vis-a-vis extremely poor to absent monitoring of their financial investments bought through their Stanchart Relationship Manager, resulting in them suffering significant principal loss.

If a personalized Relationship Manager program which is supposed to follow Stanchart's sales puff of "your financial priorities are our priorities; Our Priority Banking strategy is centred on providing distinctive and personalized service where we pro-actively connect our customers to financial solutions based on their financial needs" then fails in discharging that duty and instead loses your money, wouldn't you be mad? 

Ha! I now know better and I laugh at Stanchart's marketing claims and promises. None of which has been fulfilled to my parents.

Everyone knows that a verbal complaint will be completely ignored. Stanchart ignored our verbal complaint.

Then I lodged a formal written complaint. They took 3 months to give me a shallow, brief one-pager reply. Outrageous! 

I have served in a civil service complaints department, and I can vouch that my team's responses to complainants are far more detailed, polite, meaty, empathatic and accommodating for further discussion. Stanchart just cuts you right off and basically says, "We did nothing wrong!" Period.

Well, I am asking Stanchart for a better response. A giant bank thinks it can just brush aside its customer like a speck of dust? I think not...


Crunchy Roast Pork

I think all people of Chinese descent love their crispy crunchy roast pork. Well, maybe not everyone. But my family and I sure do!

An old school friend of mine recently posted pictures of her homemade roast pork which looked super delicious. Inspired, I attempted to make my own too.

I searched the net for a suitable recipe and narrowed them down to 2 then finally chose the one I would follow - I found it on Simply June's website (http://simply-june.blogspot.com/2010/02/roast-pork-belly-siew-yoke.html) who in turn had used a recipe from Terri's blog (http://hungerhunger.blogspot.com/2007/11/crispy-roasted-pork-shaorou.html).

I must say the recipe is excellent and fool-proof! On my first try it turned out really well and delicious. But because I had adjusted the proportion of the pork belly to suit my family size, the proportions of the ingredients ran a little. I had used a little too much salt and a little too little 5 spice powder, ha ha!

Nevertheless, I was very excited at the results. When I was cutting the roast pork, wow, it really did crackle and crunch!

The recipe is reproduced here but you could always visit June's and Terri's blogs too.

  • 1.7 Kg Slab of Pork Belly*, cleaned
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp Coarse Salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Tsp 5-Spice Powder (Depending on preference)
  • 3 Tbsp Natural White Vinegar
* Choosing the perfect slab of belly pork is very important. It can't be too fatty or lean, and the skin must be of a desirable thickness.
Prick the pork skin with a fork or metal skewer as many times as possible. Smear 1 Tbsp vinegar all over the skin, leave the slab of pork skin-side up an hour or two (or put in the middle section of your fridge overnight, uncovered, if you can wait) so the skin will dry. Switch oven on to 200 C (about 400F).

Take pork out, turn over and rub half the salt and all the 5-spice powder on meatside/underside evenly. Turn over so skin-side is up. Rub 2 Tbsp vinegar all over the skin, then rub remaining salt over and place the pork on the wire rack of the oven. Put a tray under the rack to catch any drips and fill the tray with water so the drips won't smoke up your oven.

Roast without opening the oven for 1 1/4 hours (add 20 to 30 min longer if the pork is very thick; mine was not). Put the rack (use mitts!) higher up to grill the skin and increase the temp to 220 C (about 450F) for another 15 minutes.

KLGirl's experience: It can get pretty smoky during the roasting, so be sure to keep your windows and doors open. Also, the water in the tray to catch the oil drips dried out! Because I only used 600g of pork belly, my roasting time was only 45 minutes plus 10 minutes to grill the skin. More than enough - I'll reduce the time further next time. My oven is quite large and powerful. And of course, adjusting the amount of salt and 5 spice powder is an art (not a science - contrary to what my hubs thinks) which you have to perfect yourself according to your preference and the weight of the pork belly you are using.

02 June 2012

Eating healthy

Raising a family requires a girl to feed them. And to feed them well, and in as many interesting ways she can think of.

Many a mom will remember how difficult it is to get her kids to eat solid foods post-weaning and then on to toddlerhood and childhood with the vege refusals, carbo-only meals, fast food temptations, instant noodle requests, and so on.

I am fortunate in the sense that my children and husband do not have a sweet tooth and they do not crave sugar-laden fizzy drinks or desserts. Or much junk food for that matter. McDonald's, Burger King or KFC is a treat only once in every few weeks. We always eat at home on school days and eat out 2-3 times each weekend.

In the last month or so, news of a dear friend's child's sickness has made me think about more healthy options. Perhaps going organic for vegetables? I found a farmer within a 50 km radius from my home who even delivers to the house - Green Wish Vege Farm near Chenderiang, Tapah. Change our staple white rice to brown rice? Before, my husband had always said that brown or mixed rice types were unpalatable. I got a 5kg bag of brown rice, anyway. And when the family ate the first meal of brown rice, nobody complained! I guess we can go with brown rice from now on...

Fruits, though, is a problem. I do not enjoy fruits, neither does my husband. And because of that I have a natural inertia against buying fruits. We can keep a boxful of fruits, in still pristine condition, in the fridge for a month without eating them! My maid always asks why I bother to buy fruits. She doesn't like fruits either.

Still, I give the children freshly squeezed apple and orange juice everyday with out Kenwood juicer.

Discussing the healthy aspects of eating and general living with hubs got him thinking and looking into high powered blenders. The juicer just gets the juice out from the fruit but there's still a lot of goodness gone to waste in the left over pulp. So last week, he got the distributor to send to us the JTC Omniblend V. Wow it's powerful and works fast! We get to drink the whole fruit. And it is so much easier to clean a blender than a juicer, where you have to remove the fruit pulp and spilt juice from the sides of the juicing machine.

This holidays, the family is enjoying fruit smoothies and milk shakes from the Omniblend.