Wednesday, October 21, 2009


This is an old video clip, but one of my favorites. David Bradley describes his invention of CTL-ALT-DELETE (imagine the bragging rights). But when he tried to share the credit, Bill Gates was not amused.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hike at Squaw Valley


These are pictures of cairns I took during our hike at Squaw Valley. At one section of the hike, it was mostly boulders, so there was no visible path. We relied on these small rock formations which were built by some kind soul(s) to mark the trail.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cashew Cookie - A Malay Treat

cashew cookie recipe

In my head, I always want to do more than I have time for. When I was preparing for the our party, I saw the dishes my mum prepared for that special day to celebrate Hari Raya - sambal goreng pengantin, sayur lodeh, ayam masak merah, rendang and ketupat. S, ever the practical one, talks through my ideas and plans with me, and gently nudges when he sees my ambition getting ahead of me. This is a common occurrence — me, having wild ideas, and him, reining me back to reality. But sometimes, I manage to slip a couple of unplanned missions pass him.

Like two Saturdays ago.

We were preparing for our lunch party. S was doing some cleaning and clearing the house to make space for our guests. I had just finished labeling the serving plates. Five pounds of shrimps were waiting to be peeled and de-veined. I decided to mince dried shrimps and anchovies first. While my hands were busy, I was thinking that we didn't have enough sweets. One fruit cake and three kek lapis (I was testing recipes) were well and good, but I needed a cookie. I mean a cookie for the party, not for myself. Well, for myself too — just a few.

But which one? My mind mentally flipped through the ubiquitous cookies that make their appearances during Hari Raya and settled on the simplest one - the cashew cookie. Hands washed (and I mean really washed to remove the pungent scent of dried shrimps), I started scooping out the flour. I had butter, sugar, cashew and the remaining ingredients. No need to tell S, I thought. He'd just put the brakes on my batter. Our good friend L, came by with her 2½ year old daughter A, while I was measuring ingredients. So I enlisted A's help and she made her own cookies. She did very well — L just had to make sure that the cookies were about the same shape so they would bake evenly. I wish I have photos to share. I really need to step it up when it comes to photography.

Yes, making the cookies put me behind schedule and I had to stay up a little later than planned, but I am glad I did it. It was fun being able to introduce another Malay recipe to our friends. I also shared how I used to eat the cookie — I would peel the egg wash and enjoy that first because I thought it was the best part of the cookie!

cashew fruitWhen you see the pictures of the cookies I've made, you'll ask, why do they look like apples? In fact, I asked my mum that very question when she used to make them. See the picture on the left? That's the cashew fruit. The cashew nut that is jutting out of the fruit is really a seed. So the cookie is shaped to look just like the fruit! Clever, no? I've always wondered who was the first person who thought of it. With the addition of the cashew meal to the flour, it is also the perfect recipe to substitute some white whole meal flour. I used only ¾ cup substitution, but I will try more in the future. The recipe makes a lot of cookies, so feel free to halve it. The cookies are baked at a lower temperature so as not to burn the cashew nuts. They are so simple to make; I can easily see them being served during other festive occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas too.

cashew cookie 2

cashew cookie 3

Cashew Cookie (Kuih Gajus)

5½ oz roasted cashew
5½ oz castor sugar
11 oz all-purpose flour
3 oz white whole wheat flour
1 ts baking powder
8 0z butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1 egg, room temperature
1 ts vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
about 70-80 roasted and unsalted cashew nuts, each split in 2 halves

1. Run the cashew pieces through the food processor with 3 tablespoons of castor sugar. Mix with the flours and baking powder.

2. Beat the butter with the remaining castor sugar until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Beat until fluffy. Add the flour mixture and mix well. Pre-heat oven to 300°F. Line a baking tray with silicone mat or parchment paper.

3. Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl with a fork. Shape each piece of dough, about 1.5 inches, into a ball. Take one half of a cashew and gently push into the dough. When you have made enough for one baking tray, use a small pastry brush or your index finger to brush the egg wash over each cookie. Bake for about 15-18 minutes, or until the egg wash turns golden.

Makes 120-140 cookies.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Haberdashery - Earthquake Readiness


This was the headline of the supplement of the San Francisco Chronicle 20 years ago today when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the Bay Area. This anniversary, and the recent spate of earthquakes in Asia and in the Bay Area, serves as a grim reminder of the need to be prepared. Since I moved to the Bay Area two and a half years ago, I have experienced two minor earthquakes. Each time, I only realized that it was an earthquake when it was over; in fact, during the second earthquake, I thought the trembling was caused my cat scratching the couch (hey, he is a hefty cat).

S and I have an earthquake emergency pack but it is about expire, so I am researching for our next pack. I am planning to put one together instead of buying the pre-packed kit. Besides water, food and medical supplies, I am also looking at these crank radio and cyalume sticks.

crank radio & cyalume stick

If you are interested in making your own kit, try this list from the San Francisco Chronicle. Or you can buy the emergency packs online.

San Francisco just had a major earthquake drill on Octover 15. The website by the city has useful suggestions such as designating an out-of-area contact person. Long distance phone service is often restored sooner than local service.

You can attend training sessions to learn basic emergency skills.

211 is the number you can dial during emergencies to obtain information. It is the number that has been set aside by the Federal Communications Commission for the public to easily access community information.

Don't forget about your pets! You can buy emergency kits for them too. We are, erm, just putting extra cat food in our kit for Dexter and will keep track of its expiry date.

Friday, October 16, 2009



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Learning a new Spanish word


Whew. I had my first Spanish test for this term, today. While studying for it, I wanted to look up a word in the sentence, 'Había salido con mi amigo que estaba con su novia y yo estaba viajando en la parte de atrás del auto.' The word I wanted to search was 'salido', and this is what I found in an online Spanish-English dictionary — see words circled in blue:

spanish - salido

Interesting. Before you ask what kind of Spanish I am studying, the full translation of the sentence is, "I had left with my friend who was with his girlfriend and I was traveling in the back of the car." 'Salido' is the past participle of 'salir' which means to 'to leave'. Who knew it is also the Spanish word for "horny bugger'.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fried Macaroni

macaroni fried 3

When I was prepping to cook this fried macaroni, I could almost hear my mum's exclamation in the background. Not so much because this was an exciting dish (it isn't), but because it is a dish my mum would whip-up whenever we were having guests on short notice. She would exclaim in dismay that there was no time to cook a proper family-style meal. Then she would survey her pantry — if she was short of any ingredient, she would send my father, or me (when I was older) to the grocery store. Her hands moved fast, reaching out for the pot to fill it with water for the macaroni. She pulls out her knife to cut the carrot and greens, and mince the garlic and shallots. All the while muttering under her breath what dishes she have preferred to cook, that her guests would have enjoyed more.

Her guests did in fact enjoy her fried macaroni. As did we, so we urged her to prepare it for our regular meals instead of just having it as an "emergency meal". She was happy to oblige because it is such a simple, yet hearty dish. Kind of right for the beginning of fall.

fried macaroni

Fried Macaroni (Macaroni Goreng)

2 cups whole wheat macaroni
2 tablespoons oil
3 shallots or ½ small onion, minced
2 garlic, minced
1-inch ginger, minced
2 tablespoons water
1 cup diced carrot
2 cups chinese mustard green (also known as gai choy or sayur sawi)
½ cup cooked minced beef
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
½ cup fried shallots
a few sprigs of cilantro

1. Cook macaroni as directed by package.

2. Heat-up oil to medium heat in a wok or pot. Saute the onions for about 3 minutes until carameralized. Add garlic and ginger and fry for another 2 minutes. Add the carrots, chinese mustard green and water. Stir and cover to steam the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes.

3. Remove the cover. Put in the minced meat and macaroni. Pour in the oyster sauce, tomato ketchup and sambal oelek. Stir all the ingredients together and cook for about 2 minutes.

4. To serve, garnish with fried shallots and cilantro.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rain, rain, please stay ...



When I heard the weather forecast for today, I was really excited. I heard that there was going to be rain, heavy rain. I miss that. I miss the tropical storm that blows through Singapore. Where you wake up in the middle of the night because the rain is beating so hard against the window pane, it bursts your dreams. Add thunder and lighting, and I'd never feel more cozy or more at home.

But in the part of the Bay Area where I am, it didn't quite get there. Sure there was continuous rain and even many falling branches. But I did not even need an umbrella. I just put on an anorak with a hoodie, and I could pretty much walk wherever I needed too. It was a let-down.

There is still one more day of rain according to the forecast. Please let it be good.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dinner Tonight

shrimp salsa bisque

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Our Hari Raya Lunch With Friends

hari raya 3

hari raya 1

Left to right, top to bottom:

ketupat (rice cake), begedil (potato patties), rendang (malay beef dish)

emping belinjo (padi oat crackers), peanut sauce, sambal tumis udang & telur burung (prawn & quail egg sambal tumis)

sayur lodeh (malay vegetable curry), gado-gado (Indonesian vegetable salad)

hari raya 2

For dessert, kek lapis (layered cake), biskut gajus (cashew cookie), kek buah (fruit cake)

I had the lofty ambition of accompanying this post with individual pictures of the food I prepared and their recipes. But when you are cooking 5 dishes for 30 people, it leaves little time to pick-up the camera. The real feat was not the cooking, but squeezing 30 people into our apartment! I plan cook the dishes again (just not all at the same time), and post pictures and recipes soon. So tired now, but happy that we fed so many people!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Empty dishes

eid dishes

Let's see. 50 shallots, 8 onions, 30 garlic cloves, 8 pounds beef, 5 pounds shrimps, various amounts of cabbage, water spinach, long beans, tofu, tempe, carrots, jicama, potatoes and eggs. I think these dishes will not remain empty for long. And labels are very important. Then you'll know where everything goes!

Friday, October 9, 2009

For the weekend

Something cheerful to start the weekend with (via Skippettystreet)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Onions, thy name art tears

peeling onions

I wish that onions would let me do that to them. But when I have this much onions (shallots, rather) to peel ......

peeling onions

I have only one solution .....

peeling onions

** via om-nom-nomivore

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Broiled Prawn with Miso

broiled freshwater prawn with miso recipe

broiled freshwater prawn with miso recipe

This prawn with miso dish has straight-up become one of S's favorite dishes. I used to enjoy it in a Japanese restaurant in Singapore — Akashi — with my girlfriends. I can't find it in any Japanese restaurant here, so I decided to make my own. It looks fancy but it's simple to make, perfect for impressive dinner guests. Creamy, sweet and salty - yum. Just marinate the prawns overnight and put them under the broiler 10 minutes before you are ready to eat. I paired the prawns with a soba noodle soup - another simple dish that does not take long to prepare.

broiled freshwater prawn with miso recipe

Broiled Prawn With Miso
inspired by Akashi

4 freshwater prawns
¾ cup white miso
½ cup sugar
¼ cup mirin

1. To make the miso paste: mix the miso, sugar and mirin in a small saucepan at medium high heat. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Bring to a boil and switch off the heat. Let the paste cool.

2. Clean the prawns. Make a deep cut in the belly of the prawn, cutting the length of the prawn being careful not to cut through. Press open the prawn. Spread the miso paste on the prawns, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies. Keep in the refrigerator for 2 hours (or overnight).

3. Heat the broiler to high. Put the prawns on the highest rack in the oven and broil for 5-7 minutes, depending on the size of the prawns.

Serve with soba noodle soup or a salad.

broiled freshwater prawn with miso recipe

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Haberdashery — My Favorite Online Series


There are many good books out there. You can't possibly read them all, can you? If you have that problem too, I recommend "Digested Reads" from the Guardian — probably the first online column I followed. John Crace condenses a book in the same style it is written. It's not so much a summary as it is a literary criticism. Creative, entertaining, funny — and usually taking a piss at literature. Love. It. Here are four to get you started: Nigella Bites, by Nigella Lawson, The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton, How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom and The Associate by John Grisham. had "Weeklong Electric Journals" which followed someone to his or her workplace everyday for five days (usually). A fun insight at someone else's profession. I have enjoyed many of the columns including those of Neil LaBute (writer-director), David Grinspoon (astrobiologist), Ed Levine (of, Dahlia Lithwick (Supreme Court and legal correspondent) and Mark Furstenberg (baker and founder of the BreadLine).

If I could ask for any talent, it would be to draw in a way that could affect people. Just like Maira Kalman. I have her book The Principles of Uncertainty. Her Elements of Style Illustrated is on my Amazon wishlist. Now, my eyes get to feast on her Pursuit of Happiness blog in The New York Times. Her monthly post provokes and idealizes and inspires. My favorites so far — May It Please The Court, Times Wastes Too Fast and Can Do.

The Guardian, again. This time a series on Writers' Rooms. There is a picture of the room in which the writer gets his or her work done, with a short write-up on the room and the process. See the workplace of Charlotte Bronte, Heston Blumenthal and Martin Amis, to get inspired.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Egg Sambal Tumis and Fried Sardines

egg sambal tumis 1

For me, one the surprises about living in the Bay Area is the number of Singaporeans who are here. We are lucky to have made a few good friends from Singapore who, of course, share our love of good food. I cook often and enjoy inviting our friends for a meal. Usually, having guests over for a meal require some planning. But when you can make simple home-cooked food for a fellow Singaporean, little planning is necessary. For this meal, I already had eggs in the fridge. Dried chilies are a pantry staple. Then I picked-up some kangkong from the Chinese supermarket and fresh sardines from Whole Foods to complete our menu.

I made sambal belacan kangkong with the sambal belacan from my mum. The sardines were fried and the eggs were boiled for sambal tumis. This is a sambal where dried chili paste is sauteed until it turns into a deep red and then sweetened with sugar. And I love pairing this sambal with fried fish because they go so well together. My mum would serve these dishes with nasi lemak, which is white rice cooked in coconut cream with a pandan leaf or two thrown in. But for that night, we had brown rice with our simple kampung ('village') dishes.

egg sambal tumis 3

egg sambal tumis 2

Egg Sambal Tumis
(Sambal Tumis Telur)

6 eggs
1 oz or 20 dried chilies
10 shallots
3 garlic
1-inch shrimp paste (belacan), toasted
2-inch tamarind paste
1½ cup hot water
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Make hard boiled eggs. Cool and peel the shells.

2. De-seed the dried chilies and soak in warm water for half an hour. Pound or grind to a paste. Peel the shallots and garlic, then pound or grind with shrimp paste. Put the tamarind paste into the hot water to make tamarind juice.

3. Heat oil in wok or saucepan to medium heat. Add in the shallot, garlic and shrimp paste blend. Saute for about 2 minutes. Add the chili paste and continue frying for 2 minutes. Then add the tamarind juice. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and continue cooking until the mixture turns into a deep red, about 15-20 minutes. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Taste the sambal. If there is too much heat, add more tamarind juice and/or sugar.

4. Switch off the heat and add the eggs.

Fried Sardines (Ikan Tamban Goreng)

6 fresh sardines
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt
oil for frying

1. Gut and clean the fish (you can ask your fishmonger to do it). Dry the fish as much as possible. Then rub the sardines with turmeric powder and salt.

2. Heat about ½-inch oil in a wok or pan to high heat. Put in the sardines; in batches if necessary. Lower the heat slight. Fry until the fish turn golden brown, or about 3-4 minutes. Then turn over and fry for another 3 minutes.

3. Remove fish onto paper towel to drain the oil.

egg sambal tumis 6

Sunday, October 4, 2009

if death is kind


*ulysses' gaze theme

This morning, I heard that a friend had passed away under tragic circumstances. Time stopped for a few minutes while the news sank in. Then dread creeped through. My first thoughts were his parents - the piercing pain they must feel, outliving their child. I called my mum back in Singapore — just to hear her voice. I thought of writing about the fleetness of life, of the recent unexpected deaths of people I know. But I won't because I don't understand it and I don't know where to begin.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Deseos Imposibles

Ayer, en la clase de español, mi maestra nos pidió que la lista de las frases siguientes en orden de importancia:

Saber pilotar una avioneta
Saber mās que una enciclopedia
Ser rico
Ser "mās" guapo
Acabar con todos las guerras del munda
Saber si Dios existe
Encontrar el amor de tu vida
Ser invisible
Ser inmortal

¿Cuál es su prioridad?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ayam Masak Merak — A Classic Malay Chicken Recipe

ayam masak merah recipe chicken in red sauce

When I left Singapore, I left behind a gaggle of girlfriends. Oh, how I miss them. Long conversations, gossip over food, steady shoulders for a good cry. You know those sort of friends.

Moving here, I had no expectations when it came to making new friends. I was lucky because I already had one good friend, B, who lives 10 minutes away. And I grew close to one of S's friends, L. That was enough for my social life. I was busy with moving homes, settling down and studying. After my exams, we went to a Singapore network event (because we thought they would have good Singapore food) and during the reception, while we were munching on some spring rolls, another couple joined us at our table. We introduced ourselves. She's from Singapore too and just moved with her French husband. We did small talk and being Singaporeans, of course, we chatted about food.

Fast forward 18 months later, and we — D and I — are still chatting about food. In fact, we've gone beyond that - we've both set up blogs where we talk a lot about food. So to celebrate her birthday, of course, food was involved. Last night, I made dinner for her and her adoring husband, M. I decided to make one of my mum's Malay chicken dish, ayam masak merah (recipe below). Literally it means "chicken cooked red", which sounds a little strange translated. But the sauce is a blend of red dried chilies and pureed tomatoes. The only thing different I did from my mum was to roast the chickens instead of frying them. It was a nice taste of home, in the company of semi-new friends — eating, talking, laughing. So it was a celebration not just of a birthday, but of friendship, as well.
ayam masak merah 13
After dinner, we had dessert. I always make desserts when we have friends over. But last night, I didn't because D brought some. Why would I let the birthday girl bring her own dessert? Because she's been busy making them everyday for the last month! Yup, everyday. So let's celebrate her birthday today by looking through every single of her yummy desserts on her blog — bonvivant. Watch the drool!

Chicken in Red Sauce ("Ayam Masak Merah")

3 oz dried red chilies or ½ cup of dried chili paste
1 whole chicken
1 teaspoon tumeric
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium sized onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 inch ginger
1 inch galangal
2 lemongrass
1 cup tomato puree or diced tomato
½ cup coconut cream
1 tablespoon sugar

1. De-seed and cut the each dried chili into 2-3 pieces. Soak in warm water for 30 minutes.

2. Heat oven to 400°F. Cut the chicken into 8-10 pieces. Marinate with oil, salt and turmeric. Roast for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.

3. Peel onion, garlic, ginger and galangal, cut into smaller pieces and place into food processor. Take one of the lemongrass stalks and cut the just the white part into smaller pieces, also to be placed in the food processor. Grind until you get a smooth paste (you may need to add a couple tablespoons of water to get it started). Remove spice paste from food processor. If using diced tomato, put in food processor and puree. Remove puree into a bowl. Then place the dried chilies in the food processor and grind.

4. Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a wok. Saute the spice paste for about 3 minutes. Take the bottom 8-inches of the remaining lemongrass and bruise with the back of your knife. Add the lemongrass, chili paste, tomato puree and coconut cream. Stir until all the ingredients are well-incorporated. Bring to a boil, then let it simmer for 20 minutes. In the last minute, add salt and sugar. Taste - add more salt if necessary and diced tomatoes if it is too spice.

5. Put in the roasted chicken pieces and mix until the chicken pieces are well coated with the sauce.

Serve with rice and a side dish of vegetables.

ayam masak merah recipe chicken in red sauce

ayam masak merah recipe chicken in red sauce

ayam masak merah recipe chicken in red sauce

ayam masak merah 18