Monthly Archives: November 2014

Book Review | Julie & Julia

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julie juliaI FINALLY read Julie & Julia a few years, I must confess, after watching the movie. This is a bit of a cardinal sin for me because, as a rule, I always read the book before watching the movie. I blame this on the infallible Meryl Streep who starred as Julia Child in the movie. Madame Streep is one of my favourite actresses and the bait I couldn’t resist.

In a nutshell, Julie & Julia is a cooking memoir. The book is an account of how Julie Powell who, feeling like she needed more in life to live for, embarked on a ‘cooking expedition’. The goal was to attempt 524 recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol I by Julia Child in one year, in a small, cramped apartment in Manhattan.

The book started out promisingly, but by the halfway mark, I had fast-tracked to skim-reading as it became more of the same: more cooking (duh!), how wrong the dish turned out and the subsequent tantrums/lash-outs at her long-suffering husband, Eric; her fans and friends, her deadbeat job as a secretary at a government agency. By the third quarter of the book, I was really speed-reading so that I could reach that climactic moment which, I think, began at the height of the dirtiness of her kitchen (uggh maggots??!!), and which resulted in a perfectly boned duck and Pate de Canard en Croute. It was great reading all the way from there till the end.

So, what were my observations of Julie & Julia?

  • Julie Powell is neurotic and self-absorbed (here’s where I expect her, if she were reading this, to say “Fuck Off”.)
  • Julie Powell’s ranking on the hygiene-o-meter is abysmal — unless the perpetual cat fur-covered apartment and pile of days-old dirty dishes in the sink are an exaggeration.
  • Her husband, Eric, is a saint. Is the guy for real? Amazing that he could stomach her fits of rage and misanthropic outbursts, not to mention eating dinner (whether it turned out well or not) at close to 10pm every other night? I finally understand why the word ‘long-suffering’ and ‘marriage’ go together. It’s about being there for your spouse for better or for worse. In this case, it was mostly for worse.
  • There is waaay too much butter going on for anyone’s waistline and heart ūüôā
  • This was an exercise in sheer determination — one, to Julie Powell’s credit, I could never attempt. A round of applause for Ms. Powell.

Overall, I loved her style of writing. It gave me the feeling that I was really looking into that window of her life — dirty kitchen, maggot-y sink and all. The book was amusing in many parts and I greatly appreciated the creative turns-of-phrase now and then. I also loved how Julie Powell’s mad-capped cooking attempts in the book are interspersed with short glimpses of Julia Child. But, still, I enjoyed the movie more than the book and, just maybe, I have Meryl Streep to thank for that.

I leave you with Julia Child’s recipe for Boned Duck in Pastry, taken from G’Day Souffle’s blog, here. If any of you tried it, let me know how it turned out!

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A Bowl of Yum | Cooking Mum’s Way

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Chicken minestrone, mum's way. Perfect on a rainy day.

Chicken soup, Mum’s way. Perfect on a rainy day.

THE thing about having dengue is that your body takes a long time to recover. It’s been five days since the doctor cleared me of dengue, and I still tire easily. Cooking — something I enjoy — is no longer a walk in the park, and my maximum cooking capacity is at two simple dishes or one, very elaborate, dish before I sink senseless and exhausted on to the couch.

One of the most comforting meals to have after being sick is a hearty, nutritious soup, and one of my most favourite soups in the world is chicken soup, Mum’s style. I grew up eating a simple version of it which we called ABC soup. What it is, is wedged carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and onions with chicken pieces on the bone. It was easy — chop everything up roughly, brown the chicken, then bring plain water to a boil with onions and browned chicken in it, and then chuck in the rest of the ingredients till it’s cooked and add seasoning. But a year ago, Mum decided to improvise on what now takes twice the effort and time, but which is slowly becoming a staple one-pot meal in my home.

In my last blog, I mentioned that dengue had given me a real sense of paranoia. Last night was one of my worst: I slept just before midnight and woke up at 2.50am, worrying about mosquitoes. By 4am, I still had not fallen back asleep, and my constant tossing, turning, scratching and sighing woke The Boy as well. Thankfully, he never gives me grief for waking him up every single paranoia-laced night. We ended up watching an episode of Homeland (Claire Danes’ character wins hands down as the most annoying ever in the history of serials) which irritated me immensely before I finally fell knocked out close to 7am.

So, today, I decided that I could use a comforting meal and what better than Mum’s One Dish Wonder. What I failed to remember was how time-consuming and tedious the dish was to make!

Dicing onions, carrots, potates and tomatoes is an incredibly tedious job!

Dicing onions, carrots, potates and tomatoes is an incredibly tedious job!

According to Mum’s improvised recipe, I had to peel and dice 3 carrots, 3 onions, 1 potato and 2 tomatoes. I did all this, during the hour it took me to boil a chicken carcass for some good old homemade stock, cutting my finger in the process. Once that was done, it was time to cool the carcass in a separate bowl so that I could peel the flesh off for the soup.

Why dice everything? Because the flavours really come out during the cooking.

As soon as the carcass had cooled, I proceeded to peel the remaining flesh off (why waste, no?) while putting the diced onions to boil in the home made chicken stock for about 45 minutes. The aroma of onions boiling merrily away very, very worth it. And while all that was going on, I put two fresh pieces of chicken on the rib to boil in a separate pot for half an hour. You want to save that stock once the chicken is cooked; it will come in handy when your onion-chicken stock soup subsequently reduces over time.

The aroma of onions boiling merrily away in homemade chicken stock broth is utterly beguiling.

The aroma of onions boiling merrily away in homemade chicken stock broth is utterly bewitching.

Then, it was time to add the diced carrots and potatoes to the onion-flavoured soup on the boil and start peeling the cooled chicken flesh. By this time, I was insanely beat, and had graduated to the couch in front of the TV.

After about 15 – 20 minutes, it was time to season the soup (I prefer ready-made chicken stock instead of salt) and leave it on the boil for few more minutes before dumping in the painstakingly peeled chicken flesh and additional home made chicken stock. The final step: add the diced tomatoes and boil for another 10 minutes or so. And the soup is finally done!

Dish out and garnish with freshly-crackled black pepper and chopped fresh cilantro. Ah, this will make a fine dinner tonight. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely. But maybe I will only cook it again once I regain a little more of my strength.

Can’t wait to dig in later!

Dancing with Dengue

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Dengue can kill. Image taken from http://galleryhip.com/dengue-fever.html

Dengue can kill. Image taken from http://galleryhip.com/dengue-fever.html

THREE days ago, I went for my last blood draw at the hospital, and was finally given a clean bill of health from the doctor.  I had finally recovered from dengue.

Dengue is a serious thing. A recent report in the Malay Mail showed that cases have continued to rise and that the number of fatalities had increased 163% from 63 deaths in the same period last year.

My dengue episode, although not critical, was nasty enough. It started when I woke up one morning with a terrible headache and pain behind my eyeballs, two Saturdays ago. Four Panadol tablets later, the headache and pain behind my eyes still did not dissipate. Feeling unusually tired, I went to bed in the afternoon, thinking that a nap would cure me. Unfortunately, I woke up with a burning fever that wouldn’t go away and chills I could not explain. Four more Panadol later, I still did not get any better. By the following day, my fever had exceeded 39 degrees. I went to the hospital and learnt that my blood pressure had dropped to 90/64. Surprisingly, I was not asked to take a blood test. Three days later, my fever subsided, but my appetite remained poor. My gums bled more than usual whenever I brushed my teeth, and I could not shake off the feeling that something was wrong. On a hunch, I decided to go to the hospital again to take a blood test.¬† This was Day 5 since my fever bout began. Two hours later, the doctor called me with the awful news that I had dengue. The better news was that it wasn’t critical enough for me to be warded, but there was every likelihood of my condition worsening over the subsequent days.

I struck a deal with the doctor. In exchange of staying home (instead of getting admitted), I promised I would stay hydrated (more than 2L of water a day) and indoors, and check myself in, if I started vomiting, getting dizzy spells and severe abdominal pains. The trade-off also was to go to the hospital for daily blood draws until I started to demonstrate an upward trend in my blood count. For someone as frightened of needles as I am, this was torture. Still, it beat having a drip needle perpetually wedged in my vein.

The bout of dengue has left me with a real sense of paranoia: I have woken up in the middle of the night, every night for the past week worrying about mosquitoes. Today, every mosquito bite scares the hell out of me. Because, while it is true that you may develop immunity from the strain of dengue that you suffered from, you are not immunised from other strains of dengue. Also, the road to recovery is a long one. A quick trip to the supermarket to shop for groceries leaves me terribly tired. And writing a blog is exhausting, too. I have yet to regain my full strength and I daresay it will take me at least a month to become my strong self again. Imagine if my condition were more critical!

I’ve learnt a thing or two during my illness, and I’d like to share them here:

  • Dengue can kill. If you suspect something is not right, or your fever does not go away, see the doctor immediately and get tested.
  • There is NO medication for dengue. Staying hydrated and lots of bed rest are key, alongside constant monitoring of your condition.
  • Papaya leaves DO NOT help with dengue. This was confirmed by the specialist doctor who attended to me. Most often, people administer blended raw papaya leaves as a last resort to dengue, when they no longer have any idea what else to do. This is normally close to the 7th or 8th day of dengue — when the body is, in fact, already starting to heal. Understandably, it would appear that raw, papaya leaf juice works when, actually, it is your body that is already naturally recovering. Trust me, I had my share of¬† papaya leaf juice, and despite downing the vile tasting liquid, my platelet count continued to plummet for several days. #TrueStory
  • Millennium cactus extract DOES NOT help with dengue either. It is also very expensive. I drank 1L of the extract over two days, which cost me RM560, and yet my platelet count continued to plunge steadily.
  • Your platelet and white blood cell count (WBC) will continue to drop for about 7 to 8 days. After which, it will start to rise. Once your WBC goes up, you can be sure that it won’t be too long before your platelet count follows suit.

Stay healthy, peeps.

Celebrating the People I Love!

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Celebrating the People I Love!

When you have more than 3 people who will stick with you through thick and thin, count yourself lucky. Some people go through life with far less.

LAST night, I celebrated my birthday with some of the most amazing people in my life. For me, it was not so much about celebrating myself, but of celebrating the people I love.

I am truly thankful. For these friends of mine who have known me for a greater part of 15 years, and who have been with me through thick and thin. Who understand me (and still chose to stick around!), who never judge. Who cry with me, scold me out of love, stand up for me, check up on me, pray for me, and encourage me despite juggling their very busy schedules. Who love me for the person that I am. And who give so much without ever calculating what they get from me in return (yeah, I’ve got childhood friends who only take….).

Someone once said:

Friendship isn’t about whom you have known the longest…It’s about who came, and who never left your side…

If you have even one good friend in your life, who’d be with you no matter what — you can count yourself fortunate. But if you have more than one — or more than 5 in my case — you have far more than you could ever ask for. And so, as part of the birthday celebration, I shall count myself blessed!

Truly, birthdays are special when you can celebrate the ones who stuck around!

Project B-2-5: Kitting up the Kitchen

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These wall shelves and hanging dish rack helps organise a kitchen with limited surface space. Image taken from IKEA website.

TODAY marks the start of the Project B-2-5 household shopping spree, beginning with the kitchen. Since we decided not to spend too much and concentrate most of our money on the master bath and master room, we decided that the kitchen would be virtually left as is, with the exception of some major polishing and cleaning. The only problem with our kitchen as it currently stands, is that there isn’t much surface space…which meant that having a dish rack, spice rack or spatula container, was going to be a tad problematic.

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With the sink and cooker hob, there’s not much surface space left in the kitchen!

One way around the problem was to get hanging racks. Which was how I ended up in IKEA, despite every disparaging remark I’ve ever made about the Swedish homeware giant. I mean, these guys really know how to visually market their stuff! As we walked through the individual show spaces, I ended up taking down notes on the items that I wanted to buy. And the list came out to be quite extensive!

But, I was a good girl and ended up buying only one wall shelf (to dry my pots), a hanging rod, a hanging dish rack, hooks, and a hang-able spice rack and spatula rack. I also ended up buying a floor lamp for less than half the price of what I spotted at Kare! All in, the bill came up to less than 500 bucks. Not bad.

A floor lamp for our hall.

A floor lamp for the hall.

Tomorrow, I will go hunting for boxes to pack up my books and CDs. And this weekend marks the big hunt for the WC, basin and shower head for our master bath, and vanity counter for the hall sink area. And maybe some pendant lights if I find some nice ones along the way.

Life & Times of A Spoilt Doggie: Remembering Zoe

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We went there again the other day. Mummy and I sat by the water’s edge, at the spot where we last saw you before you died, about 10 months ago. Did you know it was your time? What were you looking at when you sat there?

I’ve never had furry friends until you and¬† your brother, Leo. You probably knew that, which was why you never minded my silliness. Mummy was always my best friend, and all my other friends were People. Like Grandma, Uncle Oinks, Uncle Colin, Aunty Deepa, Aunty Goh and Uncle Tang. There’s also that kid, Ezra, but I don’t really like him much. He scares me and Grandma’s doggie, Muffins, too.

You and Leo were my first furry friends ever! I remember the first time we met…the two of you were huge and I was so scared! I stood behind Mummy’s legs, worried you would bite. But you didn’t. In fact, the two of you were always good to me.

Eventually, I had other furry friends too. Like Grandma’s doggies. But they’re not at all like you or Leo. And now that the both of you are gone, I miss you.

What is it like, to go? Does it hurt? I’ll be most worried for Mummy when my time comes. How will she feel? I hope she won’t cry too much.

I hope wherever the two of you are, you’re having fun. I will be seeing you someday and we can play together again. Don’t forget me ok? I won’t ever forget you.

Project B-2-5: And so it begins…

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New Home

THIS morning, the contractor sent me several pictures of my new home. It’s been more than a year since we bought the house and nothing had been done all this while, as the legal work took forever. It was surreal, looking at pictures of just-hacked walls and discussing about our WC measurements and shower mixers. It’s real now, and I still can’t believe it.

Owning my own home is the biggest thing to happen to me, and Project B-2-5 is dedicated to this phase of my life.

In reality, Project B-2-5 started more than a year ago. After months of house-hunting, we finally made our choice and began with the legal work. A few months ago, I started doing serious research on the Internet, and began putting my ideas into sketches. I also began getting recommendations for contractors from friends. After narrowing down to three contractors, we decided on Alan.

Alan has been good so far; he understands my sketches, is very prompt and provides 3D sketches so we can visualise how he has expanded on my ideas. The only thing is, Alan doesn’t come cheap. But cheap is not necessarily good. The important thing is to go with someone who can work within your budget, and whom are comfortable with and who understands your vision.

Now to wait for my home to slowly materialise … and get down to actually purchasing what’s needed.

Weakness so sweet

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Kryptonite
Oh, weakness so sweet!

You of honeyed tongue and dulcet voice
Of fragrance so enticing
Smile so alluring
Eyes so penetrating

Kryptonite
Oh, weakness so sweet!

Beckon me again
Break my defences
I crumble, slowly, under your steady gaze
And yield, steadily, to your silent call

Copyright MalaysianMinx 2014

Why can’t I be like…?

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Some days I wish I was someone else. Like that hot, irritatingly-skinny chef that runs this hip bistro in the suburbs and who whips up gastronomical storms that would melt a man’s heart.

Me — I wear old food-stained aprons, and can only cook a few boring, pronounceable dishes. I have only baked two kinds of cakes in my lifetime and, even then, not very spectacularly.

Alas! I can only be me. After all, everyone else is taken. Like that chef….