24 September 2012

Cat's Whiskers Tea

I have recently been adding "useful" plants to my garden, such as herbs and fruit trees.

One such plant to join my garden is the misai kucing/ cat's whiskers. It has delicate white flowers with protruding stamens giving it a distinctive look. I first saw the plant at a nursery and read about it, and that its leaves may be brewed as a tea to relieve urinary problems and possibly kidney stones.

Well that piqued my interest so I bought a little bag of the plant and grew it alongside my pandan (screwpine) and serai (lemon grass). It took a few days to settle in, and didn't look very well. I continued to tend it, made sure it didn't dry out and added some rich black soil. It is doing well now and has given me pretty blossoms.

I picked about 15 leaves last weekend and put it into a little pot with 2 cups of water. I boiled it for about 10 minutes - the leaves released a mild yet pleasant fragrance, vaguely hinting of chamomile. I drank the tea plain, with no added sugar. I gave some to hubs to try too, and he agreed it was pleasant-tasting. As for the health benefits, we'll just have to see.

Mid-Autumn Festival and making Moon Cakes at home...

... for the first time.

Actually, everything was done for me by Intrico, my local baking supplies vendor in Ipoh Garden. The flour for the skin was premixed and the lotus paste was already ground and nicely packed.

All I had to do was to roll out the flour, knead it, thin it out with a rolling pin and place the requisite amount of lotus paste onto the dough. Then I inserted a salted egg yolk and rolled it all into a neat ball, placed it into a plastic mould (not the traditional wooden moon cake mould), gave it an energetic pump-down and voila! A perfectly square moon cake complete with flower motif on the top.

Pop into the oven for about 8 minutes, remove for glazing with egg yolk, and bake for another 8 minutes. My maiden batch of home-made-with-help-from Intrico-moon cakes was ready, and looked marvellous!

Intrico is really wonderful for the amateur baker or those baking-challenged ones such as myself.

The mid autumn festival falls on 30 September this year, 2012. For this season's moon cake delights, Intrico has a variety of fillings - lotus, white lotus, green tea lotus, pandan lotus, mocha lotus, mung bean, chocolate etc. I found that the white lotus paste tastes better than the pure lotus paste.

In our hurried and busy lives in this era, many activities, processes and experiences have melted away and disappeared from our lives due to the sheer pressures of work, school and time spent commuting to and from places.

I'm just glad my children get to see some traditional Chinese foods being made at home, where they too get to participate in the process. I hope it all makes for a cherished childhood and harmonious family life.

I was touched by an elderly lady's remark to me today when a group of us ladies at school happened to be discussing moon cakes. On hearing that I had made moon cakes, even with this short-cut method, she said in Cantonese, "You are a good and diligent mother. Your children will know your love in your efforts." That was a really nice comment. [thank you :)]

Moon Festival Legends

I grew up listening to the story my mother told me that moon cakes were the instruments used to place instructions and plans by the Chinese to overthrow their Mongol rulers. Overrun by the Mongols in the thirteenth century, the Chinese threw off their oppressors in 1368 AD. It is said that mooncakes - which the Mongols did not eat - were the perfect vehicle for hiding and passing along plans for the rebellion. Families were instructed not to eat the mooncakes until the day of the moon festival, which is when the rebellion took place.

A more romantic legend is that of the "lady living in the moon" dating back to ancient times, to a day when ten suns appeared at once in the sky. The Emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the nine extra suns. Once the task was accomplished, the Goddess of Western Heaven rewarded the archer with a pill that would make him immortal. However, following a series of events, his beautiful wife found the pill, took it, and floated upwards to the sky and settled on the moon as a result. Legend says that her beauty is greatest on the day of the Moon festival.
(picture from http://www.ebeijing.gov.cn/Culture/EnjoyBJ/t950624.htm)

19 September 2012

Dog tales: torn paw pads and broken toe nails

Sounds painful doesn't it?

And it was, by the way our poor Rottweiler was limping. And it was all in the name of fun.

Hubs had gotten a new remote  controlled buggy (more for him and the Rottie to play with, rather than for the kids!) and Rottie was having a marvelous time chasing it up and down the driveway and all around the garden. Her hunting instincts were fully turned on!

Then my little girl exclaimed that the Rottie's paws were bleeding, and indeed there were red swirls all over the driveway and car porch. Not that the Rottie noticed, while she was having so much fun.

But later, the pain set in.

I examined her paws and found that all 4 paw pads were torn and cracked, with some of the black spongy padding dangling loosely. And several of her toe nails were broken too.

Well, the poor Rottie didn't move much for a day or two after. She was clearly in pain, and only got up and moved when she needed to relieve herself.

I had never experienced this with any of my dogs before. Some reading-up on the net turned up lots of discussions on what to do about this not-uncommon problem. Here are pictures of other dogs who have the same problem.

Fortunately, I had done most of the recommended stuff - cleaned her paws, disinfected them with Betadine and kept her off her feet. If it had been any of my other dogs, I would have let them heal by themselves, with some pampering.

But with the Rottie, we spoil her rotten, so the vet was called in. He said it wasn't anything serious, but gave her a jab to safeguard against maggots and gave her some painkiller and antibiotics.

Well, another experience with the Rottie...

My garden in Ipoh

Three years on in Ipoh, my garden reflects the blossoming life that we have adapted to in our new town. Well, not so new now.

We have come to love our house and our life here.

I am happy to share the fruits and flowers of my labour.

The light blue plumbago bloom profusely, especially in the drier months. They are hardy and maintenance-free, save for the occasional trim.

 The heliconias were painstakingly planted by yours truly next to the filtering station for our fish pond. It is another species of hardy flowering plants, well suited to our tropical climate.

The anthuriums are a new addition, which I added to a shaded sandy patch that Bonnie my dog kept digging up. She stays away now that the anthuriums have taken up residence there.

These lantanas are also relatively new to the garden. I was looking for something to brighten up the lawn area on the front left portion and read that lantanas provide colour with little care. They sure do brighten up the garden! But when you bend down close to the flowers, they don't smell like roses! They give out a slightly offending smell, probably for its self defence.

The periwinkles are doing fine, and I especially love the bright pink ones. Really easy to grow.

I wasn't too sure about the pentas (star-flowers) as they looked quite delicate. But they too have flourished.

Of course the white spider lillies, the first to be planted into our garden, have proven sturdy and reliable bloomers.

My umbra (kedondong) have been a joy. They produced fruit 9 months into the ground, just as the lady who sold the plant to me said it would, and hasn't stopped since. I've juiced it and enjoyed them as rojak.

My little mango tree with its flower buds, ready to give another crop of fruit.

This custard apple tree (nona) came with us from KL, from my mother's garden. It gives succulent and sweet apples.

I hunted around for this butterfly pea flower, so that we may use its blooms as natural colouring for desserts.

The roselle, has provided its calyx from which we made natural "Ribena"! I have half a dozen more seedlings soon to be transplanted.

My lush basil, superb for garnishing, as a clear soup, for making pesto. So wonderful to walk alongside the basil patch as its aroma fills the air. And my Rottie dashes in and out of them to catch butterflies.

Bayam kampung, and my brinjal plants.

Cat's whiskers (misai kucing) look delicate and bright. Will read up on how to use its leaves for tea.


The jatropha and costas are doing well.

My limau purut (kaffir lime), with fragrant leaves, perfect for curries. The fruits are plentiful and it is such a pity to waste them, but I have found no recipe for them. I tried making  juice from the kaffir lime, but my advice is please don't! The juice smells pleasant and fragrant, but it has a powerful bitter aftertaste. So, looks like the fruit will just adorn the tree with no use in the kitchen.