Thursday, July 30, 2009



I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article on reporting on the Supreme Court.

A tribute to a hero - Aung San Suu Kyi.

An untimely death - more than an obituary of Yasmin Ahmad. I agree with everything he says - it was my experience as a Malay in Singapore too. (via Jamie Tan)

I had never heard of William F. Buckley until I moved here. In May, we heard Christopher Buckley talk with Calvin Trillin about his famous, intimidating father; it was fun and funny. Whatever your political persuasion, this is a fascinating read.

My American education continues with this lesson in Bay Area slang (via cbslocalblogs):

And a new (to me) singer from my part of the world - Zee Avi of Malaysia:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Begedil (Potato patties)

begedil recipe potato patties

My mum was a stay at home mum, so she cooked all our meals. We were sometimes given little tasks to help her, tasks that our small hands could handle. And it was never a chore because we always had fun playing with food. For the begedil, my job was to scoop some of the mashed potatoes and put them into the fist of my right hand and repeatedly press into them to make the patties compact. Then, I would roll them into balls between my palms. The potatoes were warm and a little greasy because of my mum's way of making them. She fries slices of inch thick potato before mashing them in a mortar and pestle. Frying adds more flavor to the potatoes but I decided to use a common short cut. I boiled the potatoes instead. Otherwise, I followed her recipe closely.

My siblings and I love hanging out in the kitchen when my mum was making begedil because we liked eating the crispy egg crumbs from the frying. We would stand behind her to avoid oil splatters (sorry mum) and as soon as she scooped out some begedils from the hot oil onto a plate, we would rush to grab the crispy egg crumb, put them on some tissue paper and wait for it cool down before we ate it. It's such a great memory for me - that's why I included a little egg crumb in the picture above. For me, begedil must be fried with a generous coating of egg to give it some texture. Of course, my mum managed to produce more egg crumb and it tasted better.

I find begedil to be best with mee rebus and kuah rawan, and generally with nasi padang. But we had left over salmon, so we had our potato patties with a salmon and spinach omelete.


2 medium-sized russet potatoes
¼ cup cooked minced beef (seasoned with a little cumin or just salt and pepper)
¼ cup crispy fried shallots
¼ cup spring onion, sliced thinly
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
oil for frying

Peel and boil the potatoes. Mash the potato and add the beef, shallots and spring onion. Season with the salt and pepper. Mix well and shape into balls about 2 inches wide. Roll the balls well between your palms to ensure that the patties are compact and will remain intact when frying. Press the balls so they flatten a little on two sides. At this stage, you can freeze them. Do not defrost when you are ready to eat them - fry direct from the freezer.

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Heat oil to medium heat. Dip each patty in egg before frying them. After about 3-4 minutes, turn them over and fry until golden brown.

Makes 18-20.

begedil recipe potato patties

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Figs and goat cheese and honey


Meals are not just about spice and sambal around here. A spread of goat cheese on a cracker, a slice of fig drizzled with honey and lunch is served.

figs cheese honey

Sunday, July 26, 2009



Saturday, July 25, 2009



Oh America, I really, really like you. You've been so good to me these last two years. But I was wondering, ermmm, if maybe you could join the rest of the world and adopt the metric system?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kuih lapis nonya (Layered cake)


Now, it's possible that I made this kuih lapis nonya (layered cake) only because of the pretty colors. But it is really because I felt like peeling. That's how we used to eat it as kids. We'd peel each layer and lay it on our tongue as we savored the soft cool texture before we started chewing. Some of my friends would roll the layer first. I do remember that sometimes an adult would chide us for playing with our food. But we didn't see it that way - we were enjoying our food and even now I think we should have been encouraged. We were exploring the texture of the cake and finding the best way to eat it.

This cake is made by steaming layer by layer. Usually, you'd make the batter, divide it into separate bowls and then add food coloring in each bowl. But I actually added an additional step. I did not want to use artificial food coloring, so I decided to try making natural food coloring for this cake. I used beets, carrots and pandan leaves. Of course, this takes more preparation, but the beets and carrots add some sweetness which means you can use less sugar. The colors aren't as vivid as food coloring - the redness of the beet turned pink, the orange was more yellow and the pandan's green was slight. But still pretty, I think.


I am not writing out the recipe yet because I want to tweak it a little. It tasted good, but I thought it was more chewy than I remembered. I did want to share how I made the food coloring without a juicer.

First, line a strainer with 2-3 layers of cheese cloth and place it over a deep bowl. Peel and boil 3-4 small beets until they are soft. Take the beets out (save 1 cup of the water) and mash them in a bowl. Put them back in the pot with the 1 cup of water saved. Once the mixture is reaches boiling point, remove the pot from the heat and pour into the strainer. Use a spoon to press as much liquid out. Leave it on the counter for about 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally to encourage more straining. Be careful when handling beets - they stain like crazy!

For orange/yellow color, do the same with about 3 medium sized carrots. For green, put about 5-6 pandan leaves in a food processor, add 3 tablespoon of water and minced roughly. Then boil it with 1 cup of water. Repeat the steps to strain as with the beets.

You can keep the coloring in the refrigerator until you are ready use them. I was so tired after all that straining, I made the cake only the next day. And, it's not enough to use a few drops to get the coloring. For the kuih lapis nonya, replace water with the food coloring solution. If you already make your own kuih lapis, I highly recommend using natural food coloring. I'll update this post once I get the recipe pat.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009



This would make a lovely and unique gift - membership to the Cloud Appreciation Society and its companion cloud collector's handbook.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing - 10 things you may not know about the mission and then take a fun quiz to test your knowledge.

An old boyfriend introduced me to the books of Richard Feynman. I confess I read the books to impress him. Microsoft's Bill Gates bought the rights to videos of Richard Feynman's series of lectures at Cornell University to make them widely available to the public. You can watch them here.

The Minimalist's salad list had been making it's way around the blogs. Check out The Guardian's list of 100 easy, quick meals.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Serunding ikan (Fish floss)

Serunding ikan recipe

I made this for my dad. When we called home over the weekend, I found out that he was ill. Because we are more than 8000 miles away, I am relying on a friend who is flying in from Singapore to bring it back to him. I don't think he has had serunding ikan before, but I know he will love it. We may not look alike or agree on most things, but my dad and I have the same sense of taste in food. This serunding is not something to aid in his recovery, but just something for him enjoy. It's something he'd do for me.

The recipe is adapted from a popular Malay dish called "serunding daging" which uses beef. It is a little time consuming to make but worth it. Keep it in a container in the refrigerator because it contains coconut milk and shredded coconut. My husband loves spreading it on buttered bread. I like it over brown rice - it makes for a simple meal. You can also use it as a serunding daging substitute like putting in lontong or pulut. I used mahi-mahi which has a lower mercury level - you can use any firm fish. It doesn't make for a pretty picture, but it does taste good.

Serunding ikan

8 oz fish
8 dried chilies
15 shallots
5 cloves garlic
1-inch ginger
2 lemongrass stalks
3 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup shredded coconut
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon of oil

Boil to cook the fish and mince the fish meat in a food processor. De-seed and blend the chilies into paste. Mince shallots, garlic, ginger and lemongrass into a fine paste and blend with the chili paste. Heat up a wok with the oil at medium heat. Fry the paste for 2 minutes. Add the fish and fry for one minute. Then add the coconut milk. Stir so that everything is mixed well. Bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat and stir continuously until almost dry. Add the shredded coconut. Cook until dry.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mini popovers

Mini popovers recipe

Today we went to the vet. It's our first visit since Dexter adopted us 3 months ago. Our vet, Dr. Koga was just fabulous. She treated Dexter well, was very informative and gave us plenty of good advice. It was fun to watch Dexter in a different environment. He was really curious - sniffing every corner. The vet technician took Dexter to the back area where many of the staff were working, to weigh him. As soon as she read out his weight - 16.8 pounds - everyone turned their heads to look at him - amazement in their eyes. Yes, he is a big guy. We like to use the word "hefty". OK?

When we returned from the vet, I made popovers for tea. I've owned a popover pan for one year and have tried making popovers a grand total of two times - "tried" being the operative word. My first effort ambitiously included green onions and parmesan cheese. They tasted good but they didn't pop one bit. Learned my lesson so I tried a plain popover recipe next. That time, I saw the popovers rising in the oven. I was excited and clapped a little in joy. And then they started deflating before my very eyes. Was it the temperature, or maybe the applause? Whichever, I was crushed.

But I am determined not to make the popover pan the white elephant in my drawer of baking pans. So I dusted the pan and despite my fear of failure, decided to give it another go. As the popovers were popping in the oven, I remained calm and was determined not to become attached. But it was a case of third time lucky. With a spread of butter, the warm puffy popover was simply luscious in the mouth.

There are many recipes out there with different methods such as putting the batter through a blender and pre-heating the pan. I did neither. I also have a mini-popover pan so I adjusted the baking time and temperature. The batter is enough for about 8 mini popovers which was plenty for two.

Mini popovers recipe


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk (room temperature)
2 eggs (room temperature)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar

Beat the eggs and then add in the rest of the ingredients. Whisk well - small lumps are OK. Let the batter rest. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F. Oil the popover pan. Then pour the batter up to ¾ of each popover cup. Put the pan in the second lowest rack of the oven. Bake for about 18 minutes then lower the temperature to 340 F. Bake for another 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 8 mini-popovers.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scooter love


I snapped a photo of the red scooter as my husband was driving in San Francisco. We've been seeing many scooters on the road lately and we are discussing whether we should get one. Like a bright, shiny Vespa, maybe. It would be so fun, don't you think?

My favorite scooter experience - taking pictures while I was pillion-riding in India.







Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Sambal Series - Sambal goreng sayur


I can't say if marriage is what I expected it to be. I think for both of us, it took time getting used to living with someone. I'm sure part of it was because we got married at an older age - we were pretty much set in our ways by then. One minute I am this independent woman running my own business. The next minute I am sitting cross-legged in his living room in another continent, wondering where I can fit all my books. We have had plenty of adjustments to make along the way.

One of the things that fall on both ends of the get-along-meter is food. It is something that unites us and at the same time, causes some arguments. We grew up eating Malay food, so we love the savory taste of Malay rempah (spices) that flavors our food. We enjoy spending time in the kitchen trying to recreate the smell and taste that peppered our childhood and arguing whose mum made a better ____ (any Malay food). But he is also a red meat lover. Those last three words should be capitalized just to emphasis how much he loves red meat, but I am too polite to be shouting over the web. I really have no objection to my husband eating red meat but for health reasons I would like him to eat less of it. We "discuss" this a lot.

So I look for meat-less recipes which I think will satisfy his tastebuds. My mum's sambal goreng sayur recipe is one such recipe. The rough translation for the dish is "fried chili vegetables". She usually makes it with beef but I decided to make it with prawns. I was glad to hear that he liked it just as much. This recipe is a typical of Malay food. Onion, garlic, belacan, lemongrass, galangal and chilli blended into a spice paste and then fried until fragrant. My mum suggested one cup of dried chilli but it was too much heat, so I reduced it to half a cup.



Sambal Goreng Sayur

½ cup dried chili, de-seeded and blended into paste
1 onion, medium sized
5 garlic cloves
3 lemon grass stalks
1-inch square belacan (shrimp paste)
3-inch galangal
1 tablespoon tamarind paste to produce ½ cup of tamarind juice
2 tablespoons sugar
15 long beans, cut into 2-inch pieces at an angle
1 8-oz tempe
1 8-oz baked or fried tofu
(tofu & tempe cut into 1 by 2-inch blocks & lightly fried separately)
1 lb prawns, shelled and de-veined, lightly fried
oil for frying

Rempah (spice paste) - Peel and chop galangal, lemongrass, onion and garlic into 1-inch pieces. You don't have to exact because all will be blended. Use only the white and light green part of the lemongrass. Put the chilli paste, lemongrass, onion, garlic, belacan and galangal into a blender or food processor - grind until mixture becomes paste. Heat 1 table spoon of oil in a wok. Put in the rempah, sugar and tamarind juice - be careful of oil splatter - and fry until fragrant. Stir often so that the rempah doesn't burn. This may take 15-20 minutes.

Remove the rempah and clean the wok. Heat about 2 tablespoon of oil (medium heat). Fry the long beans for about 2 minutes. Then put in the tofu, tempe and prawns. Stir-fry for one minute. Add the rempah and mix well. Fry for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with rice.

Serves 4


Sunday, July 12, 2009



It would seem that I am on the roll with memoirs. After Haruki Murakami, it's Madhur Jaffrey.

My American life is mostly uneventful. That's why I love listening NPR's "This American Life" - it's by turns funny, sad, poignant or inspirational. If you haven't heard it, I recommend this episode with David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell. Be ready to laugh. A lot.

An interview with Arundhati Roy.

Homemade blueberry jam and english muffins

homemade blueberry jam whole wheat muffin recipe

When I go to the farmer's market here, I become what Singaporeans would say "suaku" or "jakun". The former is a Chinese slang and the latter Javanese. The closest translation I can think of is "country bumpkin"; only in this case, it's the reverse. I am the city girl struck by the wonders of the local produce market.

I walk from stall to stall - taking in not just the array of colors but the fragrance of the fruits. It's the season of peaches, apricots, pluots, cherries, blueberries, strawberries... the air smells sweet. Each vendor draws you in with a knife in hand to cut you a slice of whatever fruit he may recommend, maybe a nectarine or a peach, and offers it to you. It is humbling to think that he may have planted or plucked the luscious fruit you are savoring just miles away.

That I cannot resist is evident by the bags and bags of fruits I always bring home - surely more than two people can possible eat in a single week. This morning was no different. As I washed and put away fruit after fruit, I was doing a mental triage - which fruit was most ripe and needed to be eaten soon, which can last until the end of the week. That's where Ina Garten comes in - I had just watched her make strawberry jam on Food Network in under an hour. I decided we would have homemade jam and english muffins for brunch. Cooking fruit is a way of extending its life - useful for a greedy fruit patron like myself.

homemade blueberry jam whole wheat muffin recipe


I adapted the jam recipe by using blueberries and cherries and cutting down the sugar because I didn't want the jam to be too sweet. I also cut down the portion since it was just for two of us. I love the texture of the jam because you get small pieces of berries.

Blueberry Jam
adapted from Barefoot Contessa's Easy Strawberry Jam

2 cups blueberries, chopped in half or more
1 cup cherries, pitted and chopped in quarters
1/3 green apple, peeled and grated
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice

Put all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot and let it come to a boil. Keep it at a rolling boil and skim off any foam that may rises to the top. Stir occasionally. The Contessa says the jam should reach 220 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. I don't have one, so I just boiled it for 35 minutes. So easy - she's a genius.

Whole Wheat English Muffins
adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

Until I looked up the recipe, I didn't realize that English muffins cook on the stove top. I used Alton Brown's recipe but because I was using whole wheat pastry flour, I used 1 tablespoon less and added 1 teaspoon of baking soda before using the batter to make the muffins lighter. I used butter because I don't have shortening. Alton Brown also uses a griddle heated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. I don't have a griddle so I used a cast-iron frying pan, which worked well. I used non-stick egg rings because those are what I have.

2 cups minus a tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour, sifted
1/2 cup powdered milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup hot water
2 1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon baking powder

Stir in the powdered milk, butter, sugar and half a teaspoon of salt in the hot water. In a separate bowl, mix the yeast, 1/8 teaspoon sugar and 1/3 cup warm water. Let it rest to activate the yeast. Combine both mixture and add the sifted flour. Cover and let the mixture rest for 30 minutes in a warm spot.

Heat up the griddle or cast-iron pan to medium high heat and put in 3-inch rings. Add in the other 1/2 teaspoon of salt and baking soda and beat well. Place 3 tablespoons of the batter into each ring and cover with a lid or cookie sheet. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes and then turn over the muffins to cook on the other side. Cover the muffins and cook for another 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and remove the rings. Makes 8. You can freeze any leftovers.

I also fried some eggs because what's a brunch without eggs? I made the eggs with the same rings, but I did them before the muffins. The muffins should be eaten warm so that butter will melt as you spread it. Yum. My husband also reached out for some peanut butter for a peanut-butter-and-jelly muffin. It was a brunch that carried us well into dinner time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe


Don't you love it when the name of a place describes the place perfectly?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Baby bok choy no recipe

steamed blanched oyster sauce bok choy recipe

I've just been befriended on Facebook by several of my former dorm mates whom I have not seen since I left college. That brought back some memories. Now, I don't remember much from that time - just that there was a lot of sharing. Carrying a small basket of your toiletries into the shared bathroom. Rushing out of your second-floor room because you think you heard someone yell your name for a phonecall and running down to the shared phone on the ground floor. And of course there were the meals.

There was one small kitchenette in the whole block and sometimes, we got together to make our meals. I say "make", as opposed to "cook", because little to no cooking was involved. It is embarrassing to reveal, but one of our standard meals consisted instant noodles for carbohydrate, hot dogs for protein and blanched lettuce leaves for, err, nutrients. We simply boiled some water, blanched a few lettuce leaves, set it on a plate and drizzle a little oyster sauce over it.

steamed blanched oyster sauce bok choy recipe

So for dinner last night, I made a baby bok choy dish that was inspired by those dorm-life memories. It's one of those dishes that doesn't really require any recipe. This time I steamed them instead of blanching them. You'll need two or three bunches of baby bok choy. Cut of the base of the stems - you can leave some of the smaller leaves together intact. Clean them well as they can be sandy. Just immerse them in cold water and rinse a couple of times. Boil some water in a pot - I use a silicone steamer because it's easy to clean. Steam the baby bok choy for about 2 minutes or more if you want them wilted. I like mine with a little bit of crunch in them. Then lay them out on a plate. Mix a teaspoon of oyster sauce with 2 teaspoons of water and drizzle it over the bok choy. Add a few drops of sesame oil and garnish with crispy fried shallots (or onions)*. Serves 3 or 4. It's a simple dish that complements a meal with rich or spicy dishes.

*I usually make a batch of fried shallots and store, but you can buy them in any Indian or Middle Eastern grocery store. They add flavor and texture to many Singapore dishes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Orange and Milo jelly


I had made a spice cake for dessert for a dinner party, but it seemed a little heavy for a hot summer day. We had oranges and Milo - the latter is a pantry staple at home. So I squeezed the oranges for juice, put it on heat with some agar-agar powder and cooled it in a jelly mold. Repeat with Milo and pour it over the cooled orange agar-agar. I added some blueberries and it made for a refreshing dessert - proving once again that orange and chocolate are a sure-win combination. If you decide to try this, taste the orange juice. I used organic Valencia oranges which are pleasantly tart. I liked it, but if you want to cut down on the tartness, add a little sugar. Or, for a short-cut, use store-bought orange juice (yes, it's allowed). If I may recommend, unsweetened iced tea accompanies this dessert wonderfully.



Monday, July 6, 2009



I was strolling downtown Campbell when I chanced upon my dream life - own a recycled books store with an in-house cat named ISBN wandering around the shop and sleeping in the windows.

If you bookmark this page, you can keep up-to-date with the United Nations daily briefings.

We watched the movie Mongol over the weekend. I can't vouch for its historical accuracy, but wow, it is stunning. Also, I want their hats:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Where the sky and the lake are the same color

stumpy meadows lake

our campsite at stumpy meadows

We hiked the trail to a waterfall a couple of miles from our campsite. It's 5.6 mile loop trail and appears to be a really popular spot even though it is not well-publicized because you have cross over private land to get to the waterfall. There isn't much shade which can be arduous during a heatwave. But the walk is well-worth it. It is beautiful spot. We had our lunch by the water. If you have your swimsuit on, you can go for a swim for some relief from the heat just the like boys in the pictures below did. They were having so much fun jumping into the water and sliding down the rocks. The scenes reminded me a little of "Lord of the Flies".