Jun 26, 2015

Chinese Glutinous Rice Dumpling

In the pantry of my office right now, I am having Chinese glutinous rice dumplings (肉粽) as lunch. I have a sense of gratification as this is something I made from scratch. And seriously, it ain't easy! There are lots of preparation work prior to the wrapping, cleaning and washing numerous utensils after wrapping and waiting at least 2.5 hours of cooking thereafter. I always know it, that's why I didn't want to do it myself, alone. I grown up in typical Chinese family where every year praying of Dragon Boat Festival (or Dumpling Festival, 端午节) and eating dumplings are part of the family tradition. I have the vivid picture of my mum wrapping dumplings, siting on a stool with all the ingredients laying on the kitchen floor; I have fuzzy memory of my grandma doing the same. Long hour of hard work. Then we grown up, my mum demanded helps from me and my sister. I didn't learn dumpling wrapping skill from my mum willingly. Well, I didn't resist it either. I found it challenging and wanted to overcome it and I sensed, she needed company. In retrospective, this was probably one skill that she passed to me with little confident, as she admitted that she didn't like the work and not good at the technique of wrapping the dumpling. Sometime, we would had wrapped dumplings leak/loosen up while cooking. She repeated the same confession more than once. Her little fear blocks her from improvement. Yet, it didn't stop her from doing. My dad loves dumpling apparently and we love it too. I reckon, family love gave her a push to do it. Over the years, she saw my sister's and my wrapping technique doing better, and better. I think, she was relieved.

One little dumpling revived One little family tradition of mine.

Thanks to Mrs Kam and Lynn, gladly joined me last Sunday (Fathers' Day!) to wrap dumplings from 2kg glutinous rice, 1kg of pork belly, and many other ingredients (I used Diana's recipe). If not, I would not able to complete the entire process of dumpling making! whew~!

Mrs Kam started such party last year. It was very fun, lots of laughter and talks. I was first time hands on wrapping the dumpling after almost 10 years away from home! It dawned at me that, I did not forget the way holding the bamboo leave and filling up the ingredients for wrapping and tying.

So I gamely took up the lead to host "dumpling wrapping party" this year at the very last minute... few days before the actual Dumpling Festival. Mrs Kam was having post-travel syndrome;p.

Anyway, it was a great session to have both talented bakers in my humble flat. Lynn was first time, but she was amazingly doing well with the wrapping. All our dumplings had no leak at all after cooked for 2-3 hours, you can tell that, it was absolutely a success!

The only thing was, the dumplings are a little bland, I guess I  didn't marinate long enough or add in enough seasoning during pre-cook stage. 

I have the feeling that my mum (my grandma too, i believe) would be proud of me knowing I did all the preparation single-handedly (along with some advices from Mrs Kam). I hope I would have strong will eventually to do this again, with more seasoning definitely, and deliver to my mum. 

Jun 20, 2015

How I Find Places to Stay in Scotland

SC and I started to plan our trip to UK about three months ahead of the departure. Upon our decision to spend our time in Scotland mostly, I narrowed down my search for accommodation to these cities/Loch/Isle/Shire- Edinburgh, somewhere near Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, near Fort William, in Isle of Skye, and lastly close to Loch Ness (or Inverness) before we headed back to Edinburgh to take train back to London.

We broke down 10 hours of road journey into a week, by having 5 pit stops along the way.

Pit stop as in, spending a night in a selected accommodation.
source: Google Map

That made my effort to do accommodation reservation easier. I searched accommodation not too far from those places of interest. So strategic location of a accommodation is essential to me, Google map was my best friend during this period of time. Most hosts/agents would provide address, if not, the town or the street name of the listed apartment/hotel/house/B&B, etc. When some listing are vague about the location, I wouldn't want to have second look at it.

Because of this trip, I went into a new territory of online search for holiday accommodation. I no longer can rely on my usual booking platform- Agoda, simply because it has lesser options to offer in the region beyond Asia. I went to Airbnb, as I heard that it offers best accommodation deal in the region of Europe and US. Secondly, it is my preference to get a homely stay for my family during vacation. I feel more flexible in terms of having the facilities of laundry and cooking, if possible. We traveled light and with a quantum of budget. As this was a 2 weeks holiday, bringing 2 weeks of cold-weather-clothes for 2 adults and 2 young children is unrealistic. I need washer and dryer. And I can't possibly dine out everyday. Thus, I need kitchen. By the way, grocery shopping in most western country is a happy affair, most food are packed readily for cook. We tried smoke salmon in fillet form, just need a little butter, and it was absolutely scrumptious! We also discovered that most vegetables in Scotland were fresh and delicious! Corns were sweet, zucchini and broccoli are tender and chewable. I wouldn't have such first hand food experience if I had dined out everyday.

Sorry, I digress. All I saying, don't laugh at me if I tell you I cook while travelling. I don't cook all the time for sure. You will see in my other blog post.

So, my first in attempting to search through Airnb. Good thing is it has friendly interface which I could swim like a fish search easily and had my shortlisted places to stay. Unfortunately, I abandoned my effort halfway, I learnt that Airbnb charges guests a sum of non-refundable service fee for each reservation made. It is meant to help to cover the costs of running their business including the ability to offer 24/7 customer support. In addition, most of the host require 50% downpayment prior to the guest's arrival. In my bigger picture, it would mean losing a sum of money in the event of last minute cancellation. I can't afford it.  We are budget traveller, we have to be mindful of the expenses. The fact is, travel with young children tend to have the risk of booking cancellation, any kind of bookings. So, you can see, my other criteria for deciding accommodation is price within my budget and no payment prior to my arrival to the destination.

Fortunately, we are in such a high-technology era, all kind of information are at our fingertips. There are many other established online platforms with a good range of accommodations to begin with. New booking/accommodation search platforms that I had explored- Wimdu, Roomarama, Expedia, Booking.com and Trivago. I searched through Lonely Planet (LP) and TripAdvisor(TA) too. Reviews in LP and TA are very helpful, but my swift attention could not stick in LP for long and I personally don't like searching through TA, the process of searching is not user friendly. When I enquired through TA, FlipKey appeared in my mailbox with various accommodation offers. It took me a while to figured out the link. nope, I don't like the idea of asking-A-a-question-and-B-answer-me. Wimdu is good as there is free cancellation policy ties with most accommodations listed in there. Unfortunately, I could not find any suitable place for us to stay from there, it could be I was late in making offer, better accommodation were already been booked. Booking.com and Expedia, on the other hand, had rendered a great service with vast property types, ranging from hundreds of apartment, to hotels, to B & B (Bed and Breakfast), to hostel, to guest houses, and sometime, you may found boat. I was over the moon to see some interesting and attractive offers at the beginning. At one point, it was overwhelming and I let price to shortlist the potential accommodation for us. Both Booking.com and Expedia offered free-cancellation policy for most reservation made. Well, there are usually 3 conditions offered for any listed property: Free-cancellation, Non refundable and Special Condition. Similar to Agoda, non-refundable was always lowest compare to the other two. I would pay one with slightly higher charge, just to feel more secure of "what if".

Through Trivago, on the other hand, it taught me to compare prices of one (shortlisted) accommodation at various sources, along with the origin site of the accommodation host/agent. Booking.com gotten most of my booking. I don't know about you, I can't seem to get anything from Trivago, little listing of properties when I typed out one city. I went back to booking.com and expedia or google search manually.

From what I gathered,  Trivago is a Meta-Search Engine, so is TripAdvisor. They are not transactional site for us to book through any accommodation. Trivago helps to give a search result which is offered by booking agents. It is very different from Airbnb, Wimdu, Expedia, Booking.com and Agoda, these are booking platforms, allowing us to secure the accommodation we pick.

All in all, I did tremendous online research. In the event of shortlisted of one accommodation, I would hop around various sites to compare One's price offered. One of my booking deal directly with the host itself, cheaper, while the rest through either Booking.com or Expedia.

Last point to highlight- for all 5 places we stayed, ranging from apartment, hotel, chalet, youth hostel and a guest house (B&B), I was not required for the deposit. I paid upon our arrival. Which I think it was the best part!

May 8, 2015

Pearl Beans (aka Cranberry Beans) and Corn Soup

Peeling off the pod of pearl beans are great for training toddlers' fine motors skill, as well as mathematic lesson for primary schooler- counting, grouping; addition and multiplication.

My daughters love the work involving these beans, I always get help volunteering in peeling off and extracting the beans. Little Bomber first laid her hands on the beans when she was about 3. She was probably attracted to the beautiful appearance of the bean pods.

They love to consume the soup that is boiled with these beans too.

As I surfing in the internet, it is also called cranberry bean,

  • 200g of cranberry beans
  • 1 ear of fresh corn (or two, if you wish for more sweetness from the corn)
  • 250-300g of pork ribs
  • some red dates (optional) - Or carrot
  • 1500ml of water
  • salt to taste

Apr 30, 2015

Penang: Murals/Heritage Trail

After hearing so much of the Penang Murals Trail, we too, took a morning to hunt down as many murals as possible. Along the way, we discovered that there are not just Ernest Zacharevic's murals, there are many other amazing works too.

It was a fun morning, very much like a treasure hunt game- walking towards unknown based on the guided route.
Creadits: KPertiet's paper; Clementine Creative's Watercolour Circles; Misschifis' Fuzzy Felt Alpha;
Telling  the story of our lives from mscraps.com; etc.

Apr 26, 2015

Black Chicken and Black Beans Soup

I learnt about black chicken soup from my grandmother. At that time, two youngest aunts were still single and under the same roof with my grandmother. They taught me that this yummy chicken soup was great for nourish the body and the tasteless chicken meat was actually tender and delicious to eat with bit of soy sauce. I had some great time on my grandma's dining table with her and my aunts. They always tried to feed me and my siblings healthy nutrients whenever we were sent by my mother over while she headed out for some errands or her work.
In the nutrition aspect, black chicken does indeed have less calories than regular chicken, mostly due to less fat. For example, a 100 gram piece of regular chicken has around 8 grams fat, while black chicken has only 2 grams.
Recent evidence also shows a higher level of an antioxidant called carnosine. Antioxidants in general are a great thing, and black chicken has double the amount of carnosine than regular chicken. - source
To me, my grandma boiled the most hearty chicken soup in the universal.

Whilst, my mum taught me about black bean. She usually cook black bean soup with pork rib. According to her, black bean nourish blood, essence and yin. One step before making the soup is, the black beans are to be roasted or pan-fried without oil until the skin of the bean crack.

Over the years, I learnt from somewhere else that both black chicken and black bean are in greater effect by combining both together in a pot with black dates and boil. It helps to replenish blood and vitality. So, here's the simple recipe:

  • 1.5L of Water;
  • 1 whole black chicken
    [I usually would ask the poultry stall to de-skin and cut it into 4] 
  • 100g -150g of black beans
    [wash them and then pan-fried without oil until the skin of the bean crack]
  • Some black dates (optional)
  • Salt to taste

Apr 4, 2015

Penang: Occupy Beach Street

Beach Street, or Lebuh Pantai is one of the oldest streets in Penang. Renownedly, it is a vibrant banking district with numerous heritage buildings standing side by side.
It was built as early as 1786 or 1787, subsequent to Light Street, to be the main commercial street of the newly established George Town. Beach Street is older and has been around longer than many of the towns on the Malayan Peninsula including Singapore, Taiping, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. Unlike arrow-straight Light Street, Beach Street was built to follow the curve of the beach, which was then right beside it. The result, as can be seen to this day, is a meandering street as it makes its way towards the southern hinterland. Today both streets meet at the Light Street Roundabout. - source
I used to came for classes at the British Council, Pengkalan Weld, in the evening and drove through Beach Road after class. Besides admiring the charming old-world facade, I enjoyed the peace and smooth traffic home. It was a buzzing commercial area of Georgetown in the daytime. It is still.

On the Sunday that we were visiting Penang, SC's cousin brought us here, for the Project Occupy Beach Street. It is an initiative by the local government to bring life into Beach Street on Sundays. This project coincides with Car-Free Day which is implemented every Sunday from 7am to 1pm on the stretch of Beach Street from Downing Street to Church Street.

This is a weekend arts and cultural market.

At the same time, this is a safe platform to for the public to view the heritage area.

Not crowded though as it was drizzling.

Some of the cutest merchandises...

Public are invited to take part into the street performance too.

It is very happening here in Beach Street every Sunday. It is also buzzling at their Facebook: Occupy Beach Street.


Mar 29, 2015

Mar 2015: Another Ordinary Day

Time flies, she is 5 now. Love every moment with her, except when she bombs me.
Credits :Sahlin Studio's Digital Scrapbooking Template - May2015; Feifei's Stuff; Amanda Yi Designs; KPertiet@Designer Digitals; etc.

Mar 21, 2015

Penang: Apam Balik

Everyone, please meet Malaysian traditional pancake, Apam Balik- literally means turnover pancake.

I was thrilled when I saw this during our last visit to Penang. This was my childhood favorite! I could easily had it every week in the pasar malam (night market) near my house. But it is getting so hard to find it these days, especially in KL. The Malaysian Department of National Heritage has listed this as one of the heritage food.

Feb 15, 2015

A good year ahead

Clean house. Good year.

- Ancient Chinese Belief

As the Lunar New Year arriving soon, the focus for most of us begin with cleaning and decorating, from each's threshold into drawers and cupboards. Jolly, the house would be de-cluttered determinedly, cleaned sparkly and decorated with all sort of lucky symbols to usher the family in a prosperous Chinese New Year. Dirt, residue, negative attitudes, unpleasant words and disrespect are to be swept before or after the celebration.

Along with the clean house, I suppose one's mind must also be refresh and optimistic. Only honeyed thoughts should come out of one's mouth, and the little minds are not reprimanded or scolded during the celebration period. 

Cleaned shelter, honeyed thoughts inject positivity from one to another. And so we all prosperously embarking into a good year. 

Here, I am not going to tell you how my physical house being cleaned up significantly. What is more meaningful, in my opinion is, cleaning up the house of my soul from last year. I started of jotting down things in a year I plan to do since last year. I felt that it solidified the year for me to live on: purposefully, happily. So, here I am again, wrapping up 2014, which I believe it would help to led me to another meaningful year of 2015. Planning for the year is all over the place. 

  1. I had been cooking a lot more than before. Sometimes, I can even handle a meal for 6! The routine kicks in so naturally now that, I hardly hear my girls mention about dining out.
  2. I jogged regularly, kept sickness at bay.
  3. I've saved up the money according to the plan. The question is, what's next!
  4. Together with sc and little bomber, we cafe-hopping whenever we had time and had fun throughout the year.
  5. I had a great trip with my good old friends in Bangkok.

Jan 14, 2015

Penang: Misty Penang Hill

I have fond childhood memory of visiting Penang Hill. With luxuriant green, cold refreshing weather, tranquil, some part remained colonized too. I recalled, there was a green corner for kids to run wild while the parents get to sit down and relaxing close-by. About 830km above sea level, generally five degrees cooler than Georgetown, you will get to experience the change of temperature from the foot of the Hill to the Hill itself, with less than 30 minutes, excluding the waiting time at the queue to take the funicular. Penang Hill is one place that offering a spectacular panoramic view of Georgetown, sometime, Penang Bridge and beyond. 

"让生命稳稳流动(也)是我的功课之一。" by Bubu Tsai