Friday, February 27, 2009

Who says you can't have a herbs garden in your apartment?

Just taking a coffee break and resting my back after spending the whole morning tending the herbs garden in the backyard. It has been much neglected lately. We have been away for a month, and during our absence,the temperature had soared to record high and followed by the lashing of continuous rain were not doing any good to a herbs garden.

I managed to salvage some Vietnamese mints (Laksa leaves) that have survived the summer heat under shade of the Mulberry bush. I am now trying to propagate them by standing the cuttings in a glass of water and waiting for the new root to grow before replanting them in the soil.
You can have your own herbs garden even if you are living in an apartment. Fresh herbs can be quite easily be grown in pots or boxes on a sunny balcony or window sill in the kitchen. Simply, collect two white polystyrene boxes from your local green grocer . Buy a bag of potting mix from the supermarket or local nursery. Make a couple of small holes at the bottoms for drainage. Divide the potting mix equally amongst the two boxes. Sow or plant your favourite seedlings. Hey! you have already created an instant herbs garden. You can even maintain a ready supply of herbs by growing in these polythene boxes in the balcony. You can rest assure that home grown herbs have flavour rarely matched by those brought from the supermarkets.

Many of us are living in apartments, units and in the inner city, where garden space is rare, can still have the satisfaction of growing their own herbs or vegetables. As long as there is a balcony or open space which recieves four to five hours of sunlight then who says you can't have a herbs garden in your apartment?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fish Floss - the simple way.

Look, what I have found in my vege patch!. This is one of the five caterpillars munching away greedily at the kaffir lime leaves. Of course, it is not an optional ingredient for the fish floss recipe. It is left in the garden to continue it's metamorphosis to become a butterfly.
Although we always have some herbs growing in the garden, they seem to run out of supply, killed by the occasional heatwave or they have died of hunger and thirst mainly due to our negligent to feed them.
I still have a lot to learn how to be self-sufficient. I think it's important to move to the next level of learning how to grow and garden sustainably. It's definitely cheaper as I don't have to rely and pay an exorbitant price at the supermarket for my herbs and vegetables.

Mrs Garf's Fish Floss Recipe


1 can 425g Tuna

1 Tablespoon soys sauce

1 Tablespoon salt

4 Tablespoon sugar

2 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon Bonito fish stock pwoder (optional)

3 kaffir lime leaves (optional)

2 chillies (optional)

Open can Tuna and drain away water

Place tuna in heavy pan and mash finely over low heat.

Add soya sauce, sugar, salt and optional ingredients and continue to stir-fry until mixture is dry.

Add vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Continue to mix and fry over low heat until mixture becomes dry, flacky and golden brown. Remove and enjoy.

It is delicious when sprinkered over rice/rice-balls for your bento box.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Back to Basic, Simple and Honest Food

During our recent overseas trip to Malaysia, Singapore, Macao and Guangzhou, we were amazed by the vast variety of fast food outlets offering a fusion of eastern and western food. They seem to sprout like mushrooms. Even in Guangzhou, the historical food capital of Chinese cuisine is not spared.

We chose to eat at places that served straight forward, honest food to share with friends.

Where every mouthful of food brought back memories of the traditional kitchen, to its preparations for special feast days and the simple ritual of everyday family meals.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Recollection of Ah Mah's recipes and Mum's signature dishes.

Recent food scares and food recalls due to unscrupulous business practices by some unethical people have prompted my Mrs and I to look into Ah Mah and Mum's recipes on pickles and food preservation for alternative supply. Have you ever noticed the the artificial colouring they have added into the kiam chai you buy from the Asian grocery store or the brightly orange-coloured egg yolks in the moon cake?.

We hope to start a collection on Ah Mah and Mum's signature dishes in this blog before they are forgotten and slipped beyond the realm of recall. Please contribute and share some of your family's secret recipe for this collection.

Salty Eggs

10 duck eggs/or chicken eggs

1 cup salt

1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns(optional)

10 cups warm water

Step One

Put water, salt, and Szechuan peppercorns in a large glass container.

Step Two

Stir and mix until salt is completely dissolved.

Step Three.

Lower egg carefully into the brine solution.

Step Four.

Pickle for about 30 days. ( Actually, you do not have to wait that long. The egg floats when it is introduced to the brine. When it sunk to the bottom of the brine, it is ready to be eaten. Try it, if not wait for another couple of days.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

What lies beyond...

As a young child, visiting my maternal relatives in Loyang Village was a highlight during my school holidays. We were the city slickers and they were simple kampong folks. Mum made sure that I was presented as one, especially to her relatives: hair carefully parted at the side and heavily anointed with pomade. (Can anyone remember the brand?). "Don't forget to ask 3rd Aunty to blanco your Bata school shoes." Of course, the shoes became brown when I returned home. Nobody could stop a city kid from wallowing in the drain in search of those rainbow fishes waiting to be caught.

Loyang Village was then a small kampong with a community of Malay fishermen, Indian toddy collectors and Chinese gardeners. They were simple folks and living a self -supporting way of life. Until today, I am inspired by the kampong folks approach to life. Back in those days, people simply produced almost everything they need themselves. And what few things they didn't produce from their small vegetables plot, they procured by barter trading with someone in their kampong.

It was surrounded with coconut trees with pockets of small rubber trees holdings and fruits trees. The village centre consisted of a row of five or six corrugated iron roof shops and behind the grocery shop (Kek Ai Tiam) was a ramshackle collection of attap huts and wooden shacks, when I was a small child.

Gone were the days where I bathed with the slightly salty cold water drawn from the family well in front of my relative's house. Those carefree school holidays were also spent catching spiders and keeping them in match-boxes for spider fights, marbles and fishing in the water hyacinth pond.

By large, these kampong folks were living in a community that had evolved in isolation. "We only knew the people who lived in the kampong", I remembered my aunty saying. We seldom go to town and knew nothing what was beyond.

As a child, I would see a propeller plane flying in the distance and often ask myself, "where is the plane going". I'd like to visit those places one day. So I would look into the distance, as far as I could see, gaze at the vanishing plane, and wonder what lay beyond...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Don't Blame it on the red.

"Aiyoh, Lau Kong, don't blame it on the drinks, say that you lau liau, mah" said my Mrs.

Of course, certain extraordinary events and happenings remain engraved forever on the conscious memory. In my case, I recollect with utter clarity the very day when I left Paya Lebar Airport (Changi was non-existence at that time) with a new suitcase for Brisbane. I flew Qantas ( no choice, ticket paid by Aussie boss.) I also vividly remembered that I had to pay 60 cents for a XXXX served by a Qantas aunty. It was not a freebie in those days. (Btw for the new kakis, XXXX is not what you think, it's a Queenlander's beer.) Yes of course, it is no longer free again. Especially on those budget airlines that offer free seats but whacked you on extras with baggage, meals and refreshments charges.

Ironically, Qantas aunties are getting younger and our Singapore girls are becoming Singapore aunties. (How old is Singapore girl? Didn't they celebrated her big five O birthday bash recently?)

It was row 36 A seat. See, I told you, my long term memory is still functioning. Sat next to me were Cecilia and Edward Otley. More of the Otleys later.

After exchanging pleasantries to the elderly couple( we do speak and acknowledge strangers in those days.) If you do it today. You get a surprised stare and likely to think that you are "chee sin" or "shock shock tei". (Please contribute other Singlish words or expressions. Need to replenish my Singlish vobcabulary.)

Along with the restriction of movement due to the confinement to an economy seat and a whole cabin of high spirited returning tourists, there was an excitement of coming to a new country as a new arrival. I could hardly sleep, and was giving my poor contorted body a new yoga position every so often for the whole duration of the night flight journey to Brisbane.

A question still remains with me and which I wanted to share with new kakis coming to call this country home. Is it possible that every group of new arrivals, there were those who asked themselves that question - what lies beyond?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bring-a-plate dinner

Last month, we had a "bring a plate" dinner gathering at my place. A regular affair which includes our close family friends, and their "could I bring along..." As usual it was a great night with good food and wines. True to our national psyche of kiasuism, we had enough food to feed the whole battalion plus "tah pao" for our house guests and visitors to bring home.

Just as I was about to pour myself another drink, a question came across the dinner table from one of the house guests. "Do you recall how long ago, you left your country to live here?"

My wife and I looked at each other and replied at the same time. But we both gave a different answer. Had we forgotten? It amazes us how time can pass and we forget about the beginning.

Monday, February 16, 2009

About Me

My name is Phil, and this blog will be an online journal of my journey and transition towards a slower paced and balanced way of life. I have always wanted to live simply and sustainably, build my Eco friendly mud bricks house, plant my own fruits and veges, living well for less, but for a long time I don't know what that mean and how to do it. When I finally started to figure it out I decided to make a blog to learn and communicate with others who want to do the same.

I live in northwest of the city of Sydney. I've lived in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Australia most of my life. I also spent my growing up years and young adulthood in Singapore where I was born.

I once heard that it is easy to start a blog but to keep it going is an art. You assist me, won't you?.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

About this blog

I am new in this game . Two young Singaporean friends have just helped me to create this blog.
I hope it will provide a social platform for Overseas Singaporean especially in Australia to share their experiences as well as a meet up with other like-minded people. New friendship can be built, information can be exchanged and perhaps survival tips for new arrivals and some oldtimer tales.