Saturday, June 27, 2009

tou miau farm on my balcony

Early this month, my grocery bag included pea sprouts (tou miau) in a see-through plastic packaging. It must have been the season for pea sprouts because they were only 100yen* a pack. Usually vege at that price would have meant they were in season, and double or even triple at other times of the year, if we could get them at all.

This time the sprouts came intact with the beans and roots. So after slicing off the edible parts, I decided to see if I could grow something out of the rest. We found an unused container on top of the fridge, put the mass of beans in, and filled it with water.

Since the balcony next to my bed had the most exposure to direct sunlight, I placed it next to my pot of flowers. The first few days nothing seemed to happen.

But slowly and surely, tiny shoots branched out from the sides which had been sliced off earlier.

By the 1st week, the shoots measured an average of 5cm.

I was amazed that the plant managed to grow so well just by the water I was pouring into the container. The beans still had enough nutrients to grow the first batch of pea sprouts and now, my current sprouts.

Every morning I would wake up to slide open the window to see how my flowers and tou miau farm were growing.

By the end of 2nd week, they had grown double of what they were the previous week. Some shot up above the 10cm mark.

It was also around the same time that I noticed that there were "fly" looking insects hovering around the base. It was disturbing because those flies would fly into my room whenever I opened the window. I couldn't even properly enjoy the flowers without having to protect myself from the annoying insects.

It made watering difficult and I wondered if the plant was beginning to rot.

In the end, I made the difficult decision of throwing away my tou miau farm before things got worse. I almost wanted to push the whole container down the balcony because the only way I could take it down was to bring it back into my room via the window, and inviting the flies in together as well.

So one evening, I did just that (and I'm sure some of those flies came in too) and bade farewell to what could have been my next meal of pea sprouts.

*100 yen is not cheap for vege if you're coming from a tropical country with abundance of fresh produce. In Japan, however, that's the cheapest price. Any lower would have meant they were either going to be discarded or had (minor) bumps or discoloration.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

none but Jesus

None But Jesus (Acoustic) - Hillsong

In the quiet, in the stillness
I know that you are God
In the secret of your presence
I know there I am restored

When you call I wont refuse
Each new day again I'll choose

There is no one else for me
None but Jesus
Crucified to set me free
Now I live to bring Him praise

In the chaos, in confusion
I know Your sovereign still
In the moment of my weakness
You give me grace to do your will

Oh when you call I wont delay
This my song for all my days

All my delight is in You Lord
All of my hope, all of my strength
All my delight is in You Lord

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

incredible baked lamb shanks

I've never been good at following recipes. I figured, if I made something according to that recipe, anyone else who followed that recipe would be able to make the same exact dish as I had.

I don't think that would make me a good cook. Plus, my dish would be just like any other dish that anyone could make. But of course, that's my own definition.

I've always liked experimenting and trying out new things. Cooking included. Based on what I remember, I try to recreate the same taste with the ingredients that I have, and if necessary, purchase what I don't already have in the kitchen.

For those who've seen me cook, or cooked with me, they would never catch me with a recipe in hand. The con to that is, the dishes don't always turn out as expected!

Whenever I attempt something new, it would unvariably turn out superb good the first time around, but not-quite-there subsequently. That's where recipes come in. So you don't fail at classic and time-tested dishes.

This part of me may have been inherited from my maternal granma (bless her soul!). I grew up eating her famous Hainanese Fried Chicken, which is a gazillion times better than Kentucky Fried Chicken. If Colonel Sanders had his pressure-cooked 11 herb and spices chicken, then Ah Poh too had her own version of herb and spices chicken, and to the best of my knowledge, it has been a closely guarded recipe! My childhood memory includes this image of her taking out a jar of mustard brown paste from the refridgerator and marinating it on the chicken.

I would like to think that by experimenting and adding my own ingredients I would be able to come up with something a little different. Something that cannot be replicated. Something special.

Last week, however, I actually followed a recipe closely. At least, as close as I could because I had to improvise on certain things. We had earlier bought 1kg of lamb shanks online. None of us had cooked lamb before. So I decided to search through the millions of lamb shank recipes online.

When you see a recipe that says Incredible Baked Lamb Shanks by someone such as Jamie Oliver, also known as The Naked Chef, you'd better follow his recipe to get a delicious dish.

I could have done a trial-and-error as always, but I didn't want to be wasting the precious lamb shank and all the herbs and spices that would have made a difference in the dish.

In my honest opinion, it came out well considering I had to adjust the recipe somewhat. For one, our lambs came in pre-cut chunks unlike those with a bone in the middle as depicted in recipes. We didn't have an oven which had temperature indicators, so we had to make rough conversions from Watts to Celcius.

The meat could have been more tender, but the sauce was just perfect with the mashed potatoes. I could have had just the potatoes and sauce by itself. Overall, it came out very flavourful indeed, and the remaining white wine completed the whole meal.

To read about what happened after this batch of lamb :
1) We made a batch of lamb stew which turned out heavenly!
2) And I had still some more leftover lamb which was even heavenlier, if there was such word!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


How blessed are the children
Who in their fathers see
The tender Father-love of God,
And find their way to Thee. —Johnson












Wednesday, June 17, 2009

graduating from maggi mee and bulls eye egg

I don't think I've ever blogged about the food I've cooked in Japan. As with many foreign students, the main motivation for learning how to cook is either because we're homesick or because we can't get certain foods in the country we're living at.

For me, it's a little of both, plus the fact that I like variety in my food. As Malaysians we're so spoilt with choices - Malay, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, French, Thai, Indonesian, mamak, Italian, American and virtually anything you can think of. There's so much variety that you can eat different dishes for each meal everyday for at least a month.

However, in Japan, there's only sushi and sashimi, noodles like udon, ramen and soba, pan-cooked like okonomiyaki and monja, and the rest such as tempura, don, and yakitori. Of course there are more to that, but these are the main food groups. And contrary to what you all think, we don't eat sushi everyday. Same goes for sashimi and okonomiyaki. Daily dishes are usually teishoku* at the cafeteria or noodles.

So you can see why I got bored rather fast and decided to learn how to cook so that I didn't have to die of boredom.

The following are some of my maiden attempts while living in my humble apartment when studying Japanese in Niigata University.

20 Apr 2006
We had found a nice little shop selling bento just next to the university, and they had delicious karaage* that was the closest to KFC. After days of eating healthy naturally-flavoured Japanese food, we were craving for something a little more oily and fatty, so this fried chicken cured our longing.

It went well with our butter-fried salmon rice and vege soup.

Come to think of it, I didn't realise I put so many tomatoes into the soup. Tomatoes must have been quite cheap back in Niigata.

21 Jun 2006
After months of eating the best rice in the world, I decided I had to cook myself some Western food. I tried to follow the illustration on the fusilli package since I could not read kanji.

This was as easy as making soup dishes since I basically threw in the ingredients and mixed them. Shredded tuna and lemon juice completed the dish.

I must have thought I was able to cook finally because I actually made this dish for my host family when I stayed with them! Looking back, that was probably something to feel proud about even though a kid could have made this dish with both eyes closed.

3 Jul 2006
My weekly trips to the supermarket allowed me to try the various marinated meat sold there. I got inspired to emulate the taste and decided to experiment with various ingredients.

Graduating from the usual salt and pepper, each experiment became more elaborate as I added more spices. This concoction of Sauce X, Spice Y and chilli flakes came to be my signature dish because no one could ever guess that the combination above would produce something that looked like grilled spicy chicken.

I became more confident of having friends over and cooking for them after this. I'm glad everyone who ate this always had compliments and I get very amused when they try to find out the recipe.

19 Jul 2006
Slowly I graduated from single soup and salad dishes to having balanced meals of rice and 2 side dishes. That's me cooking Chinese-style.

That's the only plate I had in my kitchen, whereas the 2 smaller glass ones are from students who had graduated from Niigata Uni.

Whenever we had gatherings, my classmates and I would all chip in with all the cutleries from each of our kitchens. Even though the forks and spoons were mismatched and not all the cups were of equal sizes, and sometimes we had to eat from the pan or pot because there were not enough serving plates, those never mattered.

The fact that each of us tried our best to cook for our friends and serve them with the little that we had was what I remembered.

24 Jul 2006
I seriously don't remember what this dish was supposed to be. But I think those were overcooked brinjal with minced meat.

My downstairs neighbour Alden was a better cook than me, and I would secretly try to see if I could come up with something similar. Oh well, the taste was there but not the colour!

Together with the yellowed brinjals, I decided to make lotus root soup. I have been craving for Chinese-style home-cooked soup especially since such soups aren't part of the Japanese diet. Whatmore, those that have been brewed for hours with chicken bones.

By this time I had found out about a local wholesaler in Niigata city, about half an hour's drive away where I bought myself these frozen lotus root, together with tonnes of boneless chicken to last me for months.

24 Aug 2006
During my first trip down to Tokyo, I was brought to Ameyoko in Ueno where Asian foodstuff were sold. By Asian, I mean the rest of Asia not including Japan.

I was thrilled to find that South East Asian ingredients were sold in abundance there. Pastes, sauces, dried food, spices and even frozen meat. Since I was just a student and still very amateur at cooking, I only allowed myself a pack of mihun and a jar of tomyam paste (each about JPY400).

The above was my attempt at making seafood tomyam soup. After half a year of living in Niigata and having my stomach acclimatised to bland food, sipping that tomyam soup awakened my senses and motivated me to improve my cooking skills.

5 Sep 2006
Not too long after that, I made mihun tomyam soup with prawns and quail's eggs.

No words could describe how heavenly that dish was to me that time. All of my favourite ingredients and flavours.

Since there was only 1 pack of mihun and 1 jar of tomyam paste, I made sure I only used them sparingly and when I wanted to treat myself. In 2 weeks I was to shift to Urasa where it was more rural I didn't know if I'd ever have a chance to travel down Tokyo in the near future.

6 Sep 2006
After our intensive language lessons had ended, Alden and I tried something we (at least me) have never cooked before - nasi lemak!

It was a risky venture because we didn't have all the necessary ingredients so we had to make do with whatever we had left in our kitchen. All I remembered was us mixing in the Korean chilli paste, his Malaysian fish head curry powder and a lot of other stuff to come up with something that resembled sambal!

Our attempt came out well and we were able to serve our Ivorian and Bahrain friends what Malaysia's national dish (come to think of it, do we actually have one?) tasted and looked like.

That's the best part about being overseas, we're all good cooks in the eyes of our foreigner friends. I don't think that would pass as nasi lemak back home!

8 Sep 2006
This was one of my last dishes before my Hokkaido Hop. Trying to finish up remaining ingredients in the fridge and kitchen. Too busy enjoying the last of our Niigata days and planning for a getaway in the northern island to escape the summer heat.

*定食 【ていしょく】 (n) set meal; special (of the day)
空揚げ; 空揚; 唐揚; 唐揚げ 【からあげ】 (n,vs) fried (e.g. potatoes, chicken)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

nobody nobody but you

This is not exactly new, but so so very catchy that everyone I shared the link with had to agree that the song is now stuck in their head.

Love the 60's motown feel and interesting storyline behind the music video.

It got so popular that it spawned many parodies, one of which was this.

Lyrics in Korean (and in Hangul and English)

[YooBin] You know i still love you baby
And it will never change

[all] I want Nobody nobody but you
I want Nobody nobody but you
[SunYe] Nandareul sarameun shiro niga animyeon shiro
[all] I want Nobody nobody nobody nobody

[SunMi] Nan shireunde wae nal ireonae ryeogo
hanijaggu naemareun deujji ango
wae ireohgedareun namjaege nal
bonaeryeo hani eoteohge ireoni
[SoHee] nal wihae geureodan geu mal neon
bujokha daneun geu mal ijengeu manhae
neon nareul aljana weh wonha jido anneun geol gangyohae

[all] I want Nobody nobody but you
I want Nobody nobody but you
[YeEun] Nan dareul sarameun shiro niga animyon shiro
[all] I want Nobody nobody nobody nobody
I want Nobody nobody but you
I want Nobody nobody but you
[SunYe] Nandareul sarameun shiro niga animyeon shiro
[all] I want Nobody nobody nobody nobody

[SunMi] nan joh eunde nan haengbokhande
neoman isseumyeondwae deo baralge obneunde
nugul mannasseo haengbokharan geoya
nan neol ddeonasseo haengbokhal ssu eobseo
[SoHee] Nal wihae geureohdan geu mal neon bujokhadaneun geumal
mari an dwineun mariran geol wae molla
niga eobshi eoddeohge haengbokhae

[all] I want Nobody nobody but you
I want Nobody nobody but you
[YeEun] Nan dareul sarameun shiro niga animyon shiro
[all] I want Nobody nobody nobody nobody
I want Nobody nobody but you
I want Nobody nobody but you
[SunYe] Nandareul sarameun shiro niga animyeon shiro
[all] I want Nobody nobody nobody nobody

[all] I want Nobody nobody body
I want Nobody nobody body
[YeEun] Naneun jeongmal niga animyon niga animyon shildan marya Ah~

[all] I want Nobody nobody but you
I want Nobody nobody but you
[YeEun] Nan dareul sarameun shiro niga animyon shiro
[all] I want Nobody nobody nobody nobody
I want Nobody nobody but you
I want Nobody nobody but you
[SunYe] Nandareul sarameun shiro niga animyeon shiro
[all] I want Nobody nobody nobody nobody

[YooBiin] Back to the days when we were so young and wild and free
modeunge neomuna ggumman gateodeon
gutae ro doragago shipeunde
wae jaggu nareul mireonaeryeo hae
Why do you push me away.
I don't want nobody nobody nobody nobody but you

Have a good weekend dancing to the tune of this song!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

crêpes sucrées

My latest LinkedIn status read as : "... gaining expertise in the fields of fusion gastronomy, indoor horticulture, performing arts and foreign linguistics."

Simply said, I'm enjoying spring in Tokyo. Though it must be said that rainy season is now upon us. It will be tsuyu* throughout this month till July.

I have a perpetual backlog of posts to put up, but alas, to share everything that has made spring so beautiful will be impossible unless I find myself a sexytary secretary.

Especially on all the new recipes I've tried to cook, both myself and with Imm. We've since cooked, experimented and taken pics of many dishes that I have been too busy eating to blog about them.

Due to my Hainanese heritage, I find myself drawn more to both Western and Asian dishes. Since each of us specialise in different areas of gastronomy, we've always had something new on the kitchen table every week. Imm would happily serve up Chinese dishes while Aishah loves baking cakes and cookies.

One of my latest - crêpes sucrées. Served for brunch, a healthy and filling pancake with aloe yoghurt, fresh kiwi and raisins sprinkled with cinnamon powder. Not wanting to be outdone, Imm made a savoury version with onions and sausage.

Beat 2 eggs into 100g of flour, premixed with salt and sugar.

Slowly add in 1 cup of milk to the mixture, making sure to mix them well. Add 1 tsp of olive oil to batter.

Once mixture is ready, heat up non-stick pan. Take a ladle of batter and pour over pan, taking care to tilt pan in circular motion to form an evenly thin layer.

Cook over medium low heat unti it's moderately brown. Flip over.

Fold into quarters. This mixture should come up to 6 quarters, depending on size of ladle.

Ta-daaa! Crepes can also be eaten as finger food and an anytime snack.

For sweet crepes, serve with fresh fruits, whipped cream, maple syrup and lemon juice.

For savoury crepes, serve with cheese, asparagus, ham, spinach and mushroom.

* 梅雨(P); 黴雨 【つゆ(P); ばいう(P)】 (n) (1) rainy season; (2) rain during the rainy season;

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

i stand in awe

Events, one after another. A bazillion thoughts. Seemingly infinite possibilities.

Limited time. Dwindling finances.

What else can I do but to focus on Him.

I Stand In Awe - Parachute Band

I stand in awe of You
Holy one, mighty God
I raise my hands to You
Awesome King, mighty God
I will declare
Your majesty and glory in this place
Lord, let Your Holy Spirit
Bring Your glory to this place

I bow my head in reverence
To You, mighty God
I will proclaim how wonderful
And marvelous You are
I raise my hands to You
My awesome King
I stand in awe of You
In awe of You, my God

I raise my hands to you..

Saturday, June 06, 2009

enjoying arts for free

It looks like there are quite a few shows that I could attend in Tokyo without burning a hole in my pocket. To think that just last year I was complaining sharing about how expensive and unattainable some of these tickets were.

Just this year itself, I've had the opportunity to quench my thirst in the arts scene with the following for free:

Arts #1 : Ballet Recital

Date : 7 Feb 2009
Time : 5pm
Venue : Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall, Shibuya

The Oobayashi family invited us to their mother-and-daughter performance at Shibuya early this year. The recital was more of an intimate gathering for families whose daughters (mainly) would be showcasing their talents and tutu's.

Even though Mrs Oobayashi only took up ballet a few years ago, probably to accompany her daughter, it was rather inspiring to see someone her age taking up something that would need flexibility in the muscles.

I later learnt that it's not uncommon for Japanese children to take up lessons in piano, violin, ballet and other musical instruments as it's relatively quite affordable here. No wonder there are so many talented Japanese in the musical arena.

Arts #2 : Romeo & Juliet

Date : 18 May 2009
Time : 4:40pm
Venue : Waseda University Okuma Auditorium

Since I've watched the winning match between the Big Bears and Unicorns, I was extended an invitation to catch Romeo and Juliet on stage together with my Waseda friends, Aishah and Amin.

Okuma Auditorium was one of the first buildings that I saw when I was first introduced to the school. Just like Tokyo University, its design is heavily influenced by Western architecture so much so that Aishah noted that it looked like a chapel.

While reading up on Romeo and Juliet (I seriously don't remember having watched it before!), I found out that the International Theatre Company London was touring Japan, giving performances in universities around the country. For some reason, Waseda students (and honourary affiliates :)) get to watch for free, while many others have to pay for admission. What blessing!

Using only a minimalist approach to the props and stage setup plus only 6 actors, I think that's something commendable, especially if archaic English was used in a mainly-Japanese audience. That meant relying a lot on gestures and expressions to convey the story across.

Arts #3 : Orchestra

Date : 23 May 2009
Time : 6pm
Venue : Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space

Not too long after that theatre performance, I had the privilege of attending a classical performance complete with orchestra, choir and vocals, thanks to Tracy. Her host mum was in the choir, and had bought tickets for her, which she shared with us.

According to Tracy, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space is one of the better music halls as it even has the pipe organs on a separate level from the rest of the orchestra. Even though this was my first time, I could see that the interior itself was rather impressive. Maybe not as new, but bigger than our DFP.

The programme for the evening was Mozart's Krönungs-Messe and Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem Op. 45.

The 1st composition was supposed to be a Coronation Mass, with selections taken from Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. The music itself was so rich and exuberant that at times it felt more like an opera.

The whole 7 movements of the 2nd piece were performed. Much deservedly so, for it is Brahms' longest composition. Due to the scale of this work and the length of the piece, the size of the choir and orchestra also grew accordingly. For this piece, the members of the choir filled up even the last seats at the back.

I particularly like that they put up Japanese subtitles on the banner which explained the lyrics. So even if I didn't quite understand German, at least the Japanese helped!

Friday, June 05, 2009

freedom to protest

In Japan, apparently public demonstrations are allowed.

I was trying to cross the road on my bicycle after Japanese lessons when I heard commotion from the other side of the road. Everyone stopped to look.

The entourage was led by a lady with a loudspeaker, followed by these people with banners and placards.

Amongst them were people with video cameras. I'm sure I got taped. Perhaps that day's evening news captured me photographing them.

Even they have the blessing of the police escort.

How different it is with some countries in South East Asia.