Thursday, 28 February 2013

Formative years to home cooked meals

Malaysia is a melting pot of diversity, in food and culture, a legacy from its colorful past and present day dynamism.  Its main ethnics, Indians, Chinese, and Malays have dishes in their various authenticity, as well modified or fuse together to produce some new dishes that is uniquely Malaysian. The well known ones are roti canai, teh tarik, nasi lemak, nasi ayam, and ABC (air batu campur).

On top of that, regions have their own specialty and different recipes for the same name dish, like every state has their own laksa. And there are food from the street stalls, restaurants, and home cooked ones. Most street foods vendors offer well known Malaysian fares that are featured in the night market entry. But food variety in Malaysian restaurants are just endless; not only of local fares but from the world over. Malaysians eat out a lot and we all eat durian, the king of fruits, the one we love to tease our visitors taste buds with. Of course I've to list belacan (fermented shrimp paste), as one important ingredient in creating an authentic Malaysian cuisine. One day, long ago, I was cooking fried rice for breakfast, far away in a Brisbane suburb of Toowong, not only the entire house was filled with its aroma, but also the entire neighborhood.. An Australian friend who was passing by on her way to work knocked on my door, asking what was all that stinking smell!!! She ended joining me for breakfast though .. hehe.

Yes, I was indeed brought up very much with home cooked meals. My parents were of Javanese descent. My dad came to Malaya on his own after the end of word war II. My mom though was born in Malaysia (then Malaya), in the state of Johor, the south most state of the Malaysian Peninsular. However I spent my childhood days in Tanjung Karang, one of Malaysia's rice bowl. Thus begun my love affair with Asian's staple, rice.

Childhood home

The first dish I learned to cook, beside boiled rice is singgang (fish soup). The minimum ingredients needed are fish, garlic, onions, tamarind, salt and water. Fish was from the rice field, while onions, garlic and tamarind have always been the kitchen staples of a Malay house. When ginger, lemongrass, galangal, and chilies were available around the house, these herbs were added to the dish. Although it is also common to add tomatoes to one's singgang, I enjoy mine with the least of ingredients.

Fish singgang

There is another dish similar to singgang, it is call pindang. Same ingredients except in pindang, a little oil is use to fry the pounded onions and garlic and other ingredients before adding water and fish. In pindang, galangal is omitted and turmeric is added. However, this is the Southern (of the Malaysian Peninsular) interpretation of singgang and pindang; should you go to another regions - singgang and pindang could be the same thing. OK, now that we are talking about singgang and pindang, I'm going to go one step further, introducing you to a dish called asam rebus. In asam rebus, instead of using cut chilies (fresh or dried), pounded chilies or chili paste from either fresh or dried chilies, is used. What you get in asam rebus is a very chili hot soup compared to the mild soup of singgang. And when you fry all these ingredients meant for asam rebus, first, before adding water and fish, you get asam pedas. By the way belacan is added to an asam pedas, so is ginger torch flowers and Vietnamese mint.

My lesson in cooking continued with how to stir fry vegetables and deep fry fish. Although my late mother also did a lot of baking, grilling and steaming - I remained as cook's helper for a long time for these cooking method. My advance culinary lesson was cut short by going to boarding school at sixteen. My sisters are the ones who inherited my mom's cooking mastery. Still I'm glad to acquire the basic skill of cooking with whatever is available in the pantry or around the house. Ameen.

Another  favorite dish learned a long time ago is kerabu. It is made from various types of vegetables, some blanched, some fresh, that are cut into strips and mix with grated young coconut that has been grilled first then pounded together with grilled belacan, shallots and chilies. No matter how rich and flavorful the other dishes on the dining table, kerabu is always a delightful appetizer to have.

That was the beginning of my cooking experience. The variety of dishes available to choose, and mix and match these days are endless. This cooking variety that we have here in Malaysia could probably be represented by  this you tube channel The Malaysian Recipe. My way of enjoying them all  when we are at our city apartment is by having a pot luck session with good friends, family, and our visitors.

Malaysian couchsufers with our Britsih visitor who cooked us
a fusion food of  chicken, corn and mangoes in coconut milk.
There, for now from the house of Alternative Foodie. Hope everyone's week has been going splendidly. We are going for some grocery shopping. There are visitors coming for the weekend.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Schooling on the run - reading map

Washington, DC
When my late husband, an American, felt that going out of Malaysia was a much more tolerable activity than going to the immigration office to get extension of stay, we as a family begun our three monthly excursions. Not really to far away places from Kuala Lumpur but of mostly weekend trips to Thailand and  Singapore. Wanting to not keep rushing back while on these travels, I opted for early retirement. But that is just the short story (the early retirement)..

Meanwhile, my son became adept at being a suitcase baby, then a toddler and to a running one. Home, airport, walkabout, airport and back home are checkpoints to him. But there were also a lot of waiting at these checkpoints and between; so we took pictures and read to each other, as well reading street names, signage, menus and exhibition narratives. My son must have thought that reading is a skill needed to be acquired just like talking and walking. Along the way he learned to read maps too. " I want a map, please." was one of his constant requests. By the time we arrived at Disney, he was in charge with getting us around. That he is now 13, map reading  no longer seems to be his obsession. Lost of interest to where he is? Or that now geography lesson is becoming too much of a school work than fun of running around. Hmmm we have to have a talk on this.

King's Park, Perth

Disney, California
I think maps is also a beginning of learning what is the real world and what is an abstraction. He insisted that is why becoming a video game designer would be a perfect fit for him.

Meh, he is just trying to get that PS 4, which he knew very well is going to be a long wait, if we ever going to get one. He has been chasing this elusive PSD (Play station deluxe) since eons.

Alternative Foodie

Monday, 18 February 2013

Tempeh cooking 101: Reengineered

Stir fry oil soaked tempeh & cabbage, tofu ... with corn, carrot, and lettuce. 

In my family, tempeh is normally cooked either deep fried or boiled (in gravy like curry). My favorite is of course deep fried, eaten with rice and sambal belacan. In my effort to reduce fat intake, I opted to stir frying instead of deep frying. I then realized how much oil is required to stir fry four by four square inches of tempeh, that is cut into small pieces. A couple of table spoons. Duh. That is 30 m of oil. Otherwise you get either burned tempeh, and if you added water early to prevent burning, you get soggy tempeh.

Grilled Tempeh, rice and veges of bitter gourd and carrot

Sometimes, my late mom did something out of ordinary, regarding tempeh cooking. One is by grilling it in open fire. I copied that by grilling in my toaster oven. It worked!!! She never added anything on the tenpeh. I sometime brushes some oil on it to get it crispier. Perhaps not necessary, next time will grill it longer. Soybean is already rich in oil. Yup, did all that food analysis way back in school in 1980. Man, that was so long ago.

Happy tempeh eating.

Alternative Foodie

Monday, 11 February 2013

Schooling on the run - an intro

Alright, so this is school : (following mom on a river safari)
This is a subject I tread with most care. But I believe learning is beyond schooling, is never ending, only that one has to be willing. In the beginning I pored over books, talked with the experts, what should I do, is my son ADHD, autistic? What to make of a child who started reading at two and having difficulty writing at six? A curious child who has always been on the the move. I finally took him out of school when the headmaster said that they could make him sit still and follow his teacher's instruction like most of his classmates; and in Digital's own words, make him 100% good, but we would had to lose him as we knew him.

Let me test this water (helping mom on water sampling)

"I'm like Stitch, mom. I've a glitch." when told he was not behaving well on a particular day; like hiding under the table while others were doing their writing assignment; or exploring the school when the rest were doing their work in the classroom. With encouragement from his earlier kindergarten teacher who gave the opinion that Digital just learn diffrently, we decided to let him learn at his own pace. School then continued as he had been doing so six years prior, on the run.

Getting to know a new friend, "Like this?"
(Following mom on a community nutrition field work )

Getting to know a new friend, "There you got it."

As honorary village council member

We will be alright, son. InsaAllah.
Alternative foodie.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Living life

Moon over Ohio

We saw it. The gigantic 82 inches tv. super HD. RM 99.000.00 ... if I remembered corectly.

My son, "If I were a billionaire, will have this one."

Me. "If we were a billionaire, we would not spend our time watching other people live. We would be too busy living our own life. And have a party with everyone. Still, you do remember right, the saying, that we could do or have anything we want, just not everything."

My son, "You could not go to the moon though. I mean would be hard. It takes at least 10 years of training."

Me, "Uhh really? I better start training now."

My son,"Awww mom."

Think I got him. Hehh.

Alternative Foodie

Negotiating Malaysian Street Foods - Night Market

Tepung pelita, a Malay dessert (kueh) made of rice flour, coconut milk,
and sugar steamed in little banana baskets

Friday is a night market time for us. My strategy is to go as early as possible. It is because most night market food are ready to eat. Prepared early, and brought for selling starting about 6 pm, and can go on till 10 pm. That is four hours of the limit where ready to eat food is safe to eat in the humidity and heat of Kuala Lumpur. Take preparation time 1-2 hours earlier than 6 pm. Buying late or eating late into the night is stretching food safety to much. Some food though are prepared on site, and those are great for the late dinner.
Satay - beef on the left and chicken on the right

Laksa - one day I'll give this another try

Fried Noodles, Fried Rice, Fred Kueh Teow

Fried rice with prawns!

I go usually for yong tau fu and nasi kerabu, while my son goes for all the satay. The satay are meat and lots of fats. There are also stalls selling laksa, rice noodles and cut vegetables served with gravy made of fish, spices and herbs, another fare low in fat. For something soupy, laksa has to be really well made to be delicious. Our neighborhood night market laksa has a lot of room for improvement, so it get a pass from me for now. A traditional Javanese dish called pecal is also being offered by one lady. Whenever I need a pecal fix I made a beeline to this lady stall. It will do until I take time to prepare my own.

same as wadea -made of finely mashed dhal (lentils),
and spices then deep friend

This is wadea - made of coarsely chopped dhall,
spices and also deep fried.

Night market fare are not only yong tau fu, satay, pecal and laksa. There are so much more being offered. From roti canai to deep fried candied potato slices. Burgers and kebabs and all kind of rice, as well kueh and cakes. These foods are not for the faint hearted. Literally.

Sweet addiction - drinks of many hues and flavors

Snack numero uno - all deep fried.

New addition to the snack tray, Malaysian made,
deep fried potato slices

Thus never ever go to the night market super hungry. You could end up with ready to eat food purchases enough for a dozen of people instead of just two. Fine if your entire family came to camp, but money down the drain and a health hazard these night bounty can be, if you had bought food by the gurgle of your stomach. Tonight my choices are pecal, deep fried battered chicken satay (only meat no chicken fat or skin) for my son, some fruits and vegetables and a coconut drink (flesh and water of young coconut). I also usually go for the fresh produce, like  fruits, vegetables, and including sweet potatoes. While favorite snack is usually the steamed groundnuts, although funnily the seller signage says "kacang rebus", boiled groundnuts in Malay.

sweet potatoes, casava, green brinjal, limes, ladies fingers


papayas, pineapples, oranges, apples, atc ...

steamed groundnuts

deep fried chicken fillets (the seller called it chicken satay)

There are also non-food items being sold at the night market. Perfume, bags and all the jazz. It is a place supposedly to get cheapest of daily needs. So if you are in hurry to say furnish your house, and budget is tight, night market can be a place to start. But expect what you buy would not last, a long time. Still, it is a place to bargain. So enjoy.

Hope everyone's Friday is a good one.
Alternative Foodie

(This post has been updated on 30th March, 2013 to include more photos of the night market fares)

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Bread: Where did we go wrong?

Home made honey oat bread
My introduction to bread on a regular basis was at the boarding school I went, at 16. White and taste horrible. It was usually served with margerine and jams, and  one half-boiled egg, every other day, at breakfast time. My bread had always been white untill my 3rd year of undergrad, the year I started my course in food science and nutrition. Way back in 1979. Ooh man! It was then I found out that there were such thing as breads made from whole wheat, and other grains. I had never seen one, way back then.

The first thar came on the market was brown bread,  called roti jagong (corn bread, but not the corn bread, but bread that were partly made of whole wheat and may be corn meals). This so called roti jagong, even to this presently, some still as bread for the diabetics. Now another related history, way way back in my childhood days. early teen (70s), when someone is diagnosed with diabetes, the two food items forbidden/under strict control then were rice & sugar. Might be an overly simplified dietary guide, but not too far off from what we know today, in controlling blood sugar level.

Back to bread; today our breads are of endless variety. Today too, many weight control, health related issues are being associated with grain intakes especially as bread. Apart from bread being mainly made of wheat san nutrient except carbodydrate, even in so called whole wheat bread, and apart from food arlergies gluten, to my view, bread is not bad. That bread is getting a bad rap just as I begin to love eating bread is so not fair!!!

Bread ingredient: Bleached all purpose flour, salt water, yeast, milk, eggs, oil ... oat, honey?
So, the oat and honey is only a small portion of bread ingredient. I must say that this home made bread is heavenly. The next step is to change our bread ingredients to at least unbleached flour, and better still of whole meal, be it wheat or corn. And certainly, no more the dreaded white bread of my student days on the dining table.


Alternative Foodie

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Urban Gym Jungle Gym

Trail walking at Fraser HIll
I remember three gym memberships very well. All started nicely during the first few months, maybe to a year and one into the second year. Then all tapered to once a week attendance ... and ended in once in a few months. I'm sure there are more than these three gym memberships that I ever had but they are distant memories; either too long ago or hardly attended any session. My last one was five years ago. Now I know that real gym is not for me. Workout to me needs to have a purpose than just exercise.

The best one I had was walking everyday, five days a week for a full year, except on school holidays, then three times a week for another year - a couple of hours each time. Those long walks of 2005 and 2006, while my son was attending his kindergarten, healed me from many ailments, of body, mind and soul. Nah, not much of weight loss as I did not monitor much of my diet. I did lose about 7 kilograms in that two years of long walks. And it is only recently that I lost another 7 kilograms. Having a BMI value of 28, I'm still way overweight.

It was other worrisome health markers, namely cholesterol and blood pressure, that made me take a more serious look at my diet than just reducing sugar, oil and salt (SOS). Following countries' nutrition guides alone, like DASH,  can no longer effectively lower my blood pressure. And there is more to cholesterol than just limiting eggs and organ meats as well other foods high in cholesterol. There are many other unmeasureable (not easily measured) factors affecting, say, blood pressure beside diet and physical activity. Yet these are the ones we can control, beside of course, of smoking and alcohol intake.

These days I'm trying to follow a plant based diet that is low in glycemic load. Meat, dairy and fish will still be in the menu, only in smaller portion. Having been trained in nutrition and food science I'm left to believe that there is no such thing as bad food.; unless proven so, or in a case of food alergies. This principle, of no bad food, certainly applies only to whole foods. Once processed, refined or repurposed, especially those that become pure chemical compounds - food are no longer food in its true sense. When my son adds sugar to his chocolate milk I remind him that he is adding chemical to his drink. "Hehh." Want to talk about all those extruded snacks? I asked him "Uuhuh, would you let me enjoy my chemicals, mom?" was his response. "I'm just teaching you biochemistry, duh." He is homeschooled.

But then I'm no chef. So most of our meals turn out like a lab outputs. Utilitarian, no garnishing. "Hehh." There I echoed my son.

In physical activity, I know as much it has to be something productive while expending energy. Walking to a train station has much more pull factor than a gym, also working the farm is more satisfying. My 2005 - 2006 had a push factor of time and money saving as well being already in a beautiful garden like setting with shaded foot path. This daily long walks became less regular when my son entered primary school, and later homeschooled. To these days, urban walking is still an activity my son and I both enjoy.  It certainly can saves money, a good amount of money sometimes, depending which city we are in. Futhermore, nothing compares to seeing a place on foot. My son would argue though that taking a heli ride would be funner!!! Still this urban walk activity has to be scheduled into our daily life ... not just when we are traveling in another city.

Urban gym Paris: Going down the steps, that we had climbed up earlier.

Urban gym Paris: More steps down that later had to be climbed up!

Kuala Lumpur has many places and routes for walking, from garden and parks, to covered airconditioned walkways. The KLCC - Pavilion walkway is our favourite, which we have done a few times. The distance between KLCC train station to Hang Tuah train station is probably 5 Kilometers, yet it makes a pleasurable look forward activity. It could be one of our weekly hikes

Another route is the walk from our house to (again) KLCC, with a distance of around 8 kilometers. We reserve this for Sundays and long weekends, as we need to walk by the road side most of the way. It is not the KL heat and humidy that we worry us most but polution. On the way we pass Taman Tasek Titiwangsa - one of KL parks. Taman Tasik Titiwangsa is our fall back outdoor urban gym. Just about two kilometers from our where we live.

Tman Tasek Titiwangsa: Great city view

Taman Tasek Titiwangsa: Walking path

Taman Tasek Titiwangsa: Open air gym equipments

Now the challenge is to get our feet going with higher frequency!!! For this week, since our return to the city last week, we did the KLCC - Pavilion route on Monday, and today because of another business outing, we did the IKEA route. I'll write on the IKEA route in another post.

For now Alternative Foodie is signing out

p/s photos other than Taman Tasik Titiwangsa are of my son.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Rice included

Rice, sambal belacan with pieces of lemon & tomatoes,
and deep fried fresh water salted fish.

It is never going to be a total change of diet in the house of alternative foodie, rice will always have a place. May hopefully not revert to platefuls as the way I would love to eat my rice, especially when there are ulam (raw salad, Malay style) and sambal belacan to accompany my boiled polished white rice!!! Moderation is a nice word, just a word, mostly ignored while the all out eat urge took over. Just once in a while these days. Alhamdullilah.

Otherwise rice is often served as half cup portion mixed with raw vegetables like bitter gourd and tomatoes, or carrot, topped with  tempeh  and more vegetables.

Bitter gourd is one of the usual ulam eaten with rice among Malaysian, although it is can also be cooked in many ways. My almost no fail inclusion of bitter gourd with my rice arises from the knowledge that it can prevent the quick rise of blood sugar level from eating polished rice. As well bitter gourd being one food item eaten frequently by the Okinawan. Especially those (close to be) centenarian Okinawans. Why not right?

For now. Goodnight folks.
I better get some sleep. This renewed interest with blogging can get one so carried away.

Sweet drearm
Alternative foodie

Rooted in nutty beans and seeds with lots of greens

This is another food blog as though there is not enough what is already in cyberspace. Like I do not already had blogs that some I have forgotten how to access them. But I do like Mr Bean (the series) and beans in a pot dishes. At my age, eating beans or for that matter rice itself makes a good living with gas. Ooh man. We are nuts. No no not just being nutty figuratively, but loving nuts and seeds as food too. For example, yesterday I had a clear beans and lentils soup with cubes of sweet potato. Yumms. This morning, breakfast was quinoa salad and boiled sweet potatoes. I'm born and breed a rice eater right in the middle of the paddy field that dad owned  in an area he participated in turning a virgin jungle into one of the now famous Malaysian rice bowl. Sekinchan, Selangor. And these days I'm venturing away from eating rice by the platefuls. A new blog must accompany this epic transformation!!!

Beans, lentils, mushrooms and sweet potato soup

Thus another blog road is taken, of note scribles, written on digital paper, on thought of daily foods, exotic or otherwise; seen for its nutritional and health contribution, presented again as daily meals in total or modified to suit my palate. Nah. It is more about my taste being modified to suit my preference for super fast and easy easy food prep. Still there will be write up on food prep that are true to tradition, that are nutritious and healthful with their yummy factor intact.

Quinoa salad and boiled sweet potato

Still this blog will not be just about food but of life as a whole. A minimalist simple life I aspire to have.

It will be a road well taken. InsaAllah.

For now.
Happy Chinese New Year Folks
and save travels to whichever destinations you are heading this festive season

Alternative Foodie
My son remarked, "But you already have blogs mom. Who is going to read them anyway." {{After I jubilantly announced to him I have a new blog}} "May be just your friends or whoever is stalking us?" Uuh uh my son the pragmatic man!!!