Sunday, March 29, 2009

To Live more Simply is to...Waste not, Want not.

I have written this posting for another forum thread but I thought it is appropriate for me to copy and paste this in my blog. Living simply has always being a personal quest and I hope to live my life as sustainably as possible and in the meantime, share with others to do the same.

Since my last balek kampong trip to Singapore in January this year, I have often wondered whether the younger Singaporeans have lost their sense of frugality. I don’t think we have, we have simply forgotten what it takes to make it a necessity again. With time being tough for many out there in this economy downturn, buying luxury goods and expensive shopping isn't a top priority but still, it is in our national psyche to focus on building material wealth and remain in the top league of consumerism. Perhaps it is a reaction to the Great Depression or the Second World War or the post war syndrome that our parents and grandparents went through. Whatever the reasons, it has definitely become a value system that has infiltrated every facet of our daily lives back home.
Living simply has become a thing of the past, and now individuals long for more and more material possessions. We are indeed consumed by consumerism. Our newly acquired standard HDB flat or private condos are no longer acceptable. We need to gut it inside out and have it renovated from the floor to the ceiling. The kitchen needs to have the latest fittings and electrical appliances but sadly never have the opportunity to be utilised and cook the family meals. Our kids demanded their one year old mobile phones to be upgraded to a slimmer model with extra features. Clever advertisements have honed in on our internalised and erroneous belief that our children will be happier if they have every material wish fulfilled. What are we telling ourselves that new is better than old, material possession is happiness?
Sadly, we are all sucked into the marketing ploy that no matter how happy we are now, we will be so much happier if we buy the product advertised.As a recession looms over us, many will be asking "Do we need to slash our food bills?"

Of course, the imminent recession is a worry for the young ones, my wife and I have been there more than once. Casting our minds back to where we have to trace every cent and experiment with cheap cuts of meat and living frugally. We had to use up leftover with something like fried rice and chicken carcasses. (after the fleshy parts had been consumed, we had them thrown back into the stock for making soup.) As a result, we are old hands (haha) and without a doubt we"ll be able to tide over this recession with our simple living and frugality again.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How to make Lup Cheong (Chinese Sausage)

We naturally prefer homemade lup cheong to store bought lup cheong which has preservative added to it and ingredients like monosodium glutamate, salt and sugar are added to the sausages in very high levels. Lup cheong or Chinese sausage is a dried, hard sausage usually made from pork meat and a high content of fat. Unlike western sausages Chinese sausage formulations are unique, based on long tradition method of curing the pork by air drying and usually made in winter when it is less humid. It is a commonly used ingredient in many dishes in our traditional dishes It is for example, used in fried rice, noodle and other dishes.


2 ½ kg pork shoulder
5-6 metre of sausage casing.
2 ½ tablespoon salt
2 tablespoon soya sauce
1 cup sugar
¾ cup dry sherry or whisky.

· Remove skin from pork and separate fat from the lean meat and dice the meat and fat with a knife into 6mm cubes. Combine all the seasoning in a large mixing bowl. Add the meat and fat and mix well and let soak overnight in the fridge.
· Tie off one end of sausage casing and attach a funnel to other end and gather casing on funnel tube. Stuff the marinated meat mixture into the sausage casing; tie the casing into 15cm links. Prick the links all over with a skewer to allow air to escape from sausage.
· Hang them to dry in a well ventilated place until partially dehyrated.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Just thinking aloud to myself

It has been a month since I first learnt to blog. Why is that I take time each day to share my thoughts and taking photos for the recipes I have posted. Is there nothing else I have to do? Mowing the grass, walking the dogs, or tend to other chores perhaps. My wife said that my new found pastime has overtaken my normal routines and offers me an excuse from doing some other chores. I must admit the grass in the backyard is a bit overgrown and neglected. Is my wife dropping out of our challenge to compile as many traditional food recipes for the young ones? Am I spending too much time doing this? After reflection, I came to believe that she would give me a typically silent gesture of approval by simply looking away and let me continue with the photo shoots for the latest posting.

Furthermore, we are still receiving emails from people especially from Overseas Singaporean living abroad giving support and encouragements. Is it possible there are many Overseas Singaporeans take time from their days to share with their compatriots the lessons they have learned while living in foreign lands and sharing their thoughts for a much more benevolent reason? I like to think so. And definitely, we would like to count ourselves among them.

We are delighted that Estee Weng, a Singaporean living in Sweden with her family has just included us in her exchange link. When I read Estee well written postings about her journey to this point, I found that she did not come from a position of wanting to start teaching others or to enter into debates about issues we face as Singaporeans living aboard. She felt compelled to write for some other reasons. She wrote, “I hope to set a footprint of my life in this blog so my daughter has memories of me and my thoughts. To keep in touch with other who have the same situations and interest”. Likewise, we are not here to start teaching but offer to share with others what we have learned along the way.

As for me, this blog has opened up a new way of thinking on what could be done at this stage of my life. It has definitely inspired me to try new things and in turn found myself sharing those things with others. Perhaps a chain had begun with this blog.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wax a loin.......

Today, I will show you how to wax a loin of pork without hassle and pain in this simple recipe. These preserved delicacies are called "Lap mei" in Cantonese and are often mistaken that they are waxed because of their waxy appearance and the word "lap" which also means wax in that dialect. These air dried pork, duck and sausages are preserved without any wax. Waxed meat and poultry and sausages are traditional gifts during the festive seasons, especially during the Chinese New Year.

Basically they are marinated with salt, soya sauce and wine for a day and left to dry in the sun during the autumn months..

1 kg pork loin or belly pork
1 ½ Tablespoon salt
2 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoon rice wine or whisky/brandy
2 Tablespoon soya sauce
Cut pork loin or belly pork into 30 mm strips. Rub in sugar and salt into meat and pour in the remaining ingredients to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Turn meat often to marinade evenly.
Puncture a hole to pull a string through and tie string with a knot.
Hang up to dry in the sun for 1-3 days and move to a windy place to dry for another 2-3 days.

Steam air dried pork(lup yuk) for 8 minutes over high heat. Slice thinly and serve with rice.
The air dried pork (lup yuk) is often used in the claypot rice recipe as an added ingredient or two into the rice halfway through cooking together with mushroom(dried shitake mushroom), Chinese sausage(lup cheong), thinly sliced ginger and shredded spring onion. (Detailed claypot rice recipe to be posted later).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Christmas in July

These photographs were taken in a Hakka village in the mountainous region of Southern China during our recent visit in January this year. They showed the "waxed duck", pork, and even giblets hanging out on long bamboo poles to be air dried by the cold and dry prevailing wind from the north. These air dried delicacies reminded me for many reasons. First, I love to eat them. We always have them during the Chinese New Year festival. But I didn't always like it when I was young as it is extremely salty and leathery in texture. Besides, we were spoilt with choices from the myriad of food available at the festive season. As I became older, the aromatic flavour of the waxed duck cooked over the rice in a clay pot often makes me feel like Chinese New is upon us. Well, I supposed it is like eating Christmas plum pudding at any other time outside the Yuletide season. By the way, we do celebrate Christmas in July in the Southern Hemisphere. In a country where Christmas is celebrated in summer, it seemed only logical to mimic our northern cousins to celebrate the Yuletide festivities in our winter months from June to August. So Christmas in July was born and flourished throughout the Blue Mountains region to capture the Yuletide atmosphere.
As we are now in mid-autumn, the cool weather has beckoned me to start and prepare “lap mei” (Cantonese - waxed delicacies) such as waxed duck, sausages and waxed pork for my family and friends for the coming winter months. Besides, the wintry weather is appropriate for tucking in the northern traditional winter food. I have started the “lap mei” preparation with the waxed pork and will be posting and sharing the recipe in the coming weeks. Please stay tuned.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Do you want to eat MEeee.....

A stack of noodles is a common find at every Asian grocery store (kit ai tiam) in Sydney these days. To me, the mere sight of Hokkien mee brings me back to my childhood. When I was young, we ate rice everyday at home. When we had noodles we knew it was a religious feast day or a birthday celebration in the family. Yes, that’s right. We had Hokkien noodle and with some other families using Mee Sua noodle, instead of a birthday cake. Traditional noodles are purposely cut very long, symbolizing longevity and always served at birthdays and weddings.
I remembered Hokkien mee would always be there, high on the altar among the rows of other treats. I would always be restless, wishing the coins my mother threw on the ground in front of the makeshift altar showed the correct faces up as to confirm that the offerings had been duly received by the gods and also for the prayer to be ended, so we could eat before all the good food got cold and turned soggy.
The varieties of interesting noodles available in the stores are endless. There are buckwheat noodles (soba), sweet potato noodles (Korean Chapch'ae noodles), ramen, shanghai noodle and many more. Today, although everyone seems satisfied with store bought noodles, the older Singaporean love of homemade noodles is still present. The best homemade noodles (mee sua) I have ever had are the ones from my wife’s kampong in Sitiawan. My late mother-in law usually had them specially ordered to cook her signature dish of Ang Chiew Mee Sua (Mee sua cooked in Red wine). We will post her recipe the next time we have a birthday celebration in the family.

Friday, March 13, 2009

How to make Kiam Chye

I wonder how many households are still making preserved vegetables such as kiam chye(salted pickled mustard), mui choy and chai poh (salted raddish) for their own consumption. It is disheartening to see the art of making these traditional foods may see its day here numbered and heading into oblivion. Most people conveniently buy them from the market these days, but with your help and support these classic recipes can continue here for those seeking to create the authentic taste of our traditional countryside cooking that we have left behind


1 bunch green mustard(kai choi)
11/4 cup sea salt, additional if needed.
6 cups rice water (the water used in washing rice and collected after the rice is washed)

Collect the water used in washing the rice and leave overnight to begin the process of fermentation.

Wilt the green mustard(kai choi) in the sun for a couple of hours. Rub in 1/2 cup of salt to draw out moisture from the wilted green mustard.

Mix and stir 1/2 cup salt in the rice water. Sea salt is used here and recommended because table salt contains anti-caking agent. Immerse green mustard into rice water and weigh down (a plate and pestle is used here).

Using a plate and pestle to apply pressure for the next 3 to 5 days while fermentation takes place.

Once the secret is learned, one of the most versatile preserved vegetables is at one's disposal. Kiam chye is not only a wonderful side dish but also used in many superb dishes like Kiam chye ark (Duck soup) Chye boey, and the mouth watering ikan assam pedas. By the way, the salted eggs that were made at the start of this blog.... simply delicious.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Recession Cuisine

Not very often I gave myself a chuckle, but after what I saw in a banner, “Go and spend every last cent” printed in bold across two pages in our weekend’s papers. It was also followed by a message, “Treat yourself and save someone‘s job”. That’s the message from business as the first 4 billions of the $42 billion stimulus package by the Government, start flowing to bank accounts this week. And this is a financial lifeline meant to stave off a recession. I couldn't’t help but laughed at the thought that I might be guilty of feeding recession because I believe in frugality.
Frugality in this context is simply that I do not trust, or deeply wary of expert knowledge especially they are from commercial markets or corporate organisations, claiming what is the best economic interest s for me.Personally, I have always consider frugality to be a virtue through which people can make use of their inherited skills from their kampong ancestors, carrying little and needing little, their needs simple and their wants few and finding meaning in nature instead of man-made conventions or religion.

I 'm not going to go off on my introductory tangent of frugality living, but most people would agree that frugality is at least partially about saving money. Maybe I should start a collection of recession recipes that got our grandparents/great grandparents through the depression. Anybody have suggestions on recession cuisine?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Please dad, can I have some more of the green worms ...

My son still called and described cendol as green worms, ever since he first tasted it when he was a young child travelling in Malaysia. Here is the simple version of the recipe. For the purists, please wait until my wife has completed the compilation of the traditional food recipes. Because of our rich culinary inheritance from the different cultural groups, it may take a while to finish, as she is still working on some of its originality and variations of the recipe.


1/2 cup mung bean flour.

2 1/4 cup water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Sodium Bi Carbonate

1 can coconut milk

300g palm sugar

Few drops pandan colouring.

Shave Palm sugar finely and add just enough water to cover in a sauce pan. Stir over low heat until it turns into a dark syrup.

Add water in a saucepan over low heat and stir in mung bean flour. Stirring until mixture thickens and paste like consistency, add a few drops of the pandan colouring which also acts as a flavouring. Remove from heat.

Place a portion of the paste in colander and push through the colander using the back of a ladle, directly over ice cold water. The green flour mixture will drop into the colander and harden when it drops in the ice water.

To serve, spoon cendol into bowl , top with shaved ice, coconut milk and drizzle with palm sugar syrup.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Confession of a food hoarder

Last week, I ran out of condensed milk while trying to prepare teh talek for our visitor from Singapore. "Could someone get me a tin of condensed milk from the pantry" I shouted from the veranda towards the kitchen. Not long after, our house guest appeared with a puzzled look in his face to hand me a tin of milk to me. " Gee, you hold a bigger stock than the NTUC supermarket in Singapore." he said in a disbelief sort of way. My family doesn't drink much teh talek with condensed milk. But if we did, I would have hoarded a years supply of it before now. That's because I have been a food hoarder for years.

If we eat much of something , we probably hoard it to some degree. I must admit that I hoard all kinds of food. There are 10kg of onions in a net bag, hanging from the rafter underneath the veranda. Cans and jars of tomatoes paste, pasta sauce, soya sauce, cream corn, beans, tuna and canning jars of home made pickles in the pantry. I have nearly forgotten to mention the dozen of salty eggs that were recently made and kept in the fridge.

I don't consider it hoarding, but prefer to use a better synonym. It is much nicer to call it "stocking up". As a matter of fact, it is nothing new. It is what kampong folks (villagers) have done for ages. In today's hectic lifestyle, stocking up just makes sense. It saves time and money. We should be shopping to refill what you have used from the pantry and as things come on sale instead of running about to find specific items to cook for a particular meal of the day.

We have been talking about this a lot lately. Has it ever occurr to me that I may be be a compulsive food hoarder? Or I may be a food hoarder because of my past experiences. I guess I prefer the latter, the former sounds like a disorder and I should be seeing a psychiatrist.
It has occurred to me that I may be food hoarder because of my childhood experience.

When I was about fifteen years old, there was a series of ethnic unrest and curfews were imposed to control and quell the riots in the streets. There were panic buying of food when the curfew were lifted for a couple of hours each day. My mother actually bought a supply of canned foods and stored the hoard in boxes under my bed, just in case. I guess I was traumatised for life when I was fifteen years old. Maybe I should see a psychiatrist. :D

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chwee Kuih (Steam Rice Pudding Hawker Style).

Here is a simple recipe for steamed rice pudding (chwee kuih) to those new kakis or students who are feeling homesick and want a taste of hawker's food.

You need:

Rice pudding:
1 cup rice long grain rice powder.
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup Dried Pickled Raddish
1/2 small onion
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons oil


1. Chop onion finely.

2. Chop pickled raddish finely.

3. Mix rice powder with water. Pour mixture into pan and stir continually for 3 minutes over low heat. Stir continually so that rice paste won't stick to pan and burn.

4. Spoon rice paste into teacups. Steam over high heat for 20 minutes.

5. Heat pan and add 2 tablespoons oil. Stir-fry onion until golden brown , add radiish and stir fry until fragrant.

6. Carefully remove cooked rice pudding from teacup and garnish with radish.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Bouquet To You.

We are inundated with emails and overwhelmed by the reponses and encouragement from friends and Singaporeans back home and especially those living abroad. We did'nt know what the internet could do to us! At this moment, we are unable to write and reply personally to thank each and everyone, but we will eventually come to it.

It was only yesterday that I have learnt how 'to copy and paste' from a friend and supporter of this blog. To show off what I have just learnt, I have successfully copied and pasted our posting we wrote to the OS forum. This is the posting that has caused a tsunami of emails upon us.

"We have just returned from a short "balek kampong" trip to Singapore and were amazed by the great variety of fusion food between eastern and western foods available to us. We did enjoy these new version of food but what we missed were simple traditional foods that filled us with memories of the traditional kitchens, with its preparations for special feast days and the simple ritual of everyday family meals.

We are aware that food preparation and cooking styles have evolved with the hectic lifestyles and needs of the younger generation. But unless we silverhairs past it to them (on the the presumption that they wanted to learn) these traditional foods and cooking secrets will be lost and slipped beyond the realm of recall.

My wife is currently compiling a collection of simple home cookings and recipes that are normally passed through the generations by word of mouth. We are writing this post to ask for your help and share your family cooking secrets so that we all can preserve the true flavour of the original food for the young ones to keep. Please send your cooking recipe to our blog. "

We are now sorting and categorising recipes into their appropriate groupings such as Nonya, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, etc.. Please bear with us for a moment, as we are not very computer savy and have limited PC skill. It will take some time before your family secret cooking recipes could be published in this blog. Please continue to send your support and comment in this blog. We thank you again.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hoarding like a squirrel...

Today is the first day of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Even though the temperature starts to cool Sydney is never known for its autumn colours. We have to drive 2 hours west to the Blue Mountains or 2 hours south to Canberra to enjoy Mother Nature's autumn painting. We normally prefer the crisp, clean mountain air of the Blue Mountains and enjoy the wilderness walk in autumn.

I can remember clearly, it was during one of these trips many seasons ago, I saw a squirrel scavenging for acorns hiddened under the carpet of leaves beneath an old oak tree. It paused for a moment when an acorn was found and scrambled away hurriedly with its find. Did it pause to think where to hoard the acorn for the approaching winter?. Now that I think of it, I am just like the squirrel. I am a hoarder too. Books are my weakness now. You may say having a lot of books is good, just so long as you don't have them spread across the floor and overtake all the storage spaces in the house. We have collected to much stuff over the years! The sad fact was that we had way too much stuff and meant too much for us to discard them. We have a long way from learning to live simply and get by with the least material stuff, mostly because I'm a hoarder by nature, but we are making small progress.