Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lest We forget.

Today is ANZAC day which is a public holiday on 25the April every year. It is also the 95th anniversary of Gallipoli campaign where it all started, in which many Australians and New Zealanders paid their highest sacrifice to their countries. It is the day of the year, nearly every town or suburb honour the bravery and sacrifice of the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and of all those who served their country. Since the first dawn service on an ANZAC Day in 1923 and first official dawn service was held at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1927, each year the commemorations follow a pattern that is familiar to each generation of Australians. A typical ANZAC Day service contains the following features: introduction, hymn, prayer, an address, lying of wreaths, recitation, but nothing is more touching than the bugler sounding the "The last post" during the ceremony, which symbolises that the duty of the dead is over and that they can rest in peace. Although I have not been bequeathed with such intangible historical legacy, I can only relate to the "Two-up" which is a coin game, similar to "tow-boey or head and tail" I played as a child in which coins are thrown in the air and bets are laid on whether they fall heads or tails. Even it is actually gambling, a permit is not required for today.This coin game is allowed to be played legally in public only on special days, such as ANZAC Day public holiday,Anzac Day (25 April in any year)
Victory in the Pacific Day (15 August in any year), and
Remembrance Day (11 November in any year but only after noon).

since it's actually gambling.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How to make Chinese Toffee Apples.

I love to visit the city's monthly farmers' market mainly to buy the heritage fruits and vegetables. Quite often I can find plums, peaches, pears, apples, tomatoes and potatoes of every variety, few of which are grown today. It is often said that apples or tomatoes do not taste as good as they used to. Any gardener worth its salt will testfy old-fashioned heritage varieties normally taste much better because they were not bred simply for yield and are more suited to the local environment. Their growing season is longer and they keep better.

According to John, a heritage apple grower and a regular stall holder at the market lamented, "there were about 2000 apple cultivars known in Australia soon after European settlement, only 600 can be found today". It is sad to think of what has been lost. To many of us, we know only three or four types mainly because supermarkets dictate that we only have four or five commercial varieties available to us. Just for the simple reason that it is much easier for them to handle logistically. Another reason that these great varieties of apples are being lost is because it has not been fashionable to grow them in home gardens anymore.
Apple season runs from January to June and ripen over a long period of time and are usually classified as early, mid-early, mid and late varieties, with the best time being March/April when many different varieties are ripe. There are different apples for different purposes, whether they are for eating, cooking or cider, and even dual-purpose varieties. I have found not all apples are good eating, Apples range from tart to super sweet.Some of the tatter apples such as Granny Smith and Bramley are better for cooking while others like Jonatthan and Somerset Red are ideal for cider and my old favourite Red Delicious is perfect for picking straight from the fruit bowl as a healthy snack. Now, here is a not so healthy snack recipe but will send your dentist laughing all the way to his bank. I have manage to keep this old favourite Chinese Toffee Apples recipe which I have learned from a friend who had a Chinese restaurant in Fortitute Valley in Brisbane many years ago.

Chinese Apple Tofee Recipe.

2 cooking green apples (Granny Smith)

1 cup plain flour
1 tbsp oil
2 cup of oil for frying the apples.


2 cups sugar
1 cup water
3tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Peel, cut, quarter and core apples. Cut each quater in half across to form cubes. Shift flour into mixing bowl, add 1tbsp oil and water slowly to make a light battter. Put apple cubes into batter. Heat 2 cups of in a wok until hot and deep fry apples until light golden brown. Drain batttered apple cubes on paper towel. Empty oil in the wok to leave 1 tablespoon of oil behind. Add sugar and water and bring to boil.. Increase heat and keep stirring rapidly for 5 minutes or until the sugar mixture goes foamy and white. Stir rapidly for another 5 minute or until the hot toffee turns light golden in colour. Remove from heat and add sesame seeds and apples, toss the apples around and turn out onto a lightly oil plate. Quickly drop the toffee-coated apples individually into a big bowl of water with plenty of ice cubes. This will immediately crytallized the toffee and turn them into an old favourite Chinese dessert.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hung Who? It's Skate, mate!

If you going to buy stingray (ikan pari in Malay; hung hu in Hokkien) in Sydney, the chances of drawing a puzzled look from your fishmonger is greater than finding it. No, it is not a new specie of fish to him but it is commonly sold as skate in his shop. But the big surprise awaits especially for those who don't normally see such big stingray as compared to the smaller version found in the wet markets in Singapore. Here in Sydney, skate or sting ray is usually available at fish markets where large ethnic groups of Southeast Asian countries are living. Only the wings are sold here whereas the smaller specie found in Singapore markets are usually left whole. Its skin, brownish or greenish grey on one side and white on other, is quite tough but after cooking the skin slides off the fish easily. Stingray is excellent poached, sauteed or grilled. I can remember my mother used it to cook asam pedas and added tamarind to counteract the sliminess of the fish. In Singapore and Malaysia, stingray is commonly barbecued over charcoal, then served with spicy sambal sauce and is becoming over priced in the food courts.

Yesterday, my wife bought this favourite fish of mine to cook asam pedas (hot spicy and sour) for some Malaysian relatives and friends. It was truly an appetising dish indeed, as nearly everyone requested for a second serving of rice!

Asam Pedas Recipe:

1kg stingray wing, cut into 2-3 inch chunks
2 tbsp tamarind pulp
3 cup water
3 twigs of daun kesum (laksa leaves or Vietnamese mint)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

Spice Paste

1cup shallots or 1 big onion
2 cloves garlic
20g shrimp paste (belacan)
2tbsp ground dried chilies
20g turmeric
1 stalk lemongrass

Clean stingray wing by scapping off the slime with a knive. Cut the ray wing into 2-3 inch chunk and sprinkle some salt. Mix the tamarind with water and strain the tamarind water and discard the pulp.
Grind Spice Paste ingredients until fine. Bring the tamarind water and grounded spice paste to a boil in a pot. Add the daun kesum (Vietnamese mint) and season to taste. Add the stingray and boil until cook. Do not overcook the fish as it takes only 2-3 minute to cook. Serve hot.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Reason for a Season

As the world is getting smaller,I wonder how many Singaporeans take it for granted that they can buy any fruit or vegetable from every corner of the world in the local supermarket, navel oranges from California, persimmons from Israel or China and greenhouse cultivated strawberries all year round. Alas, until they come to live or study in places where chillies or other tropical fruits and vegetables will cost them a fortune when they can find them in winter. Furthermore, there is a heavy environmental price to pay. Demanding fruit and vegetables out of season means the farmers use more energy to produce them, and most importantly, more food miles; transporting, and storing, food all costs money and uses energy. Our inflexibility and increasing demand for out-of-season products reinforces the need for long distance transportation.
So, what message am I trying to get across? Simply that in order to experience any fruit or vegetables you buy or grow at their best, you should buy them when they’re local and in season and they are considerably cheaper. Most important of all, eating seasonally actually increases the variety of food items we consume as we are forced to look at what else might be available. There’s a lot of truth attached to eating foods only at certain times of the year. Winter is all about warming flavours and heavier food, we make sure that crock-pot is the most frequently used cooking utensil in the kitchen,to provide us with stews and soup like bak kut teh, but it’s navel oranges which are in season during winter that brings us the summery, zesty flavours that brighten our days in the cold and dark season. After all, there is a reason for a season.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Holy Day

Today is an important holiday celebrated amongst the different religious faiths across the world. Not only it is Easter Monday for the Christians and Passover for the Jews, it is also the Ching Ming Festival for the Chinese. Although Ching Ming has not been observed as a public holiday in Australia or Singapore, it has played an important role for all traditional Singaporean Chinese. I remembered my mother took this observance seriously in her lifetime. Like many believers of her generation, it was a combination of elements of Chinese religions: Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, whose followers believe that the dead continue to live in the dangerous underworld while they are on their way to the Western Paradise ( 西天).They also believe that the dead continue to influence the lives of the relatives, thereby the living have a lifelong obligation to help their ancestors on their journey to paradise by making sacrifice such as burning large stacks of joss paper money called "hell bank notes" and paper replica and effigy of car, house, phone, television and even computer. They hope that their ancestors will show their gratitude by keeping them healthy, making them rich and granting them sons (incidentally her wish was granted, she was blessed with six sons and three daughters). Remembering and honouring the dead at Ching Ming, most family would visit to spring clean the grave and normally takes the form of trimming the lallangs, cleaning the grave site and putting a new coat of paint on the engraved writings on the tombstone. Food and flowers are usually brought along as offerings to the dead. As a child, I couldn't wait for the the ancestor worship at the grave site to be over, so that the whole family would be feasting the food and drinks they brought for the worship.
Like many Overseas Singaporeans it may not be practical to visit and pay respect to one's deceased ancestors and family members to reinforce the ethic of filial piety, I could only cut some flowers from the garden and placed it in front of Mum's photo. She understands.

Light from darkness! Life from death!
Dies the body, not the soul.
From the chrysalis beneath
Soars the spirit to its goal.

Richard H. Newell.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mum's Homebrewed Ginseng Herbal Teas

It is surprisingly simple to have a cuppa of herbal tea or tonic such as chrysanthemum and ginseng tea just by jiggling a tea bag in a mug of hot water. Alternatively, a couple of spoonfuls of elaborately prepared herbal extracts available at all Asian stores, dissolved in a cup of water to produce an instant drink. But not the way my mother went about it. She would've approached each preparation session with great care and ceremony, mainly because there was an on set of cold in the famliy or someone was having to sit for an important school examination. Her herbal tea was normally bought from the local "sinseh" (traditional herbalist) in which a few different kinds of dried herbs made into a combination, to produce the most bitter brew imaginable and only made drinkable with a few pieces of "shen cha" ( a sweet dried fruit leather) offered as a treat to us. My mother also collected various fruits, leaves, roots, herbs and anything else that could be concocted into medicinal brew. Many of these were kept as standby in her medicine drawer in case any of us children fell ill.

In my memory, that stained clay pot and ceremic charcoal stove was always at the same place in the corner of the kitchen and the herbal tea brewing away over a weak charcoal fire with the bitter medicinal smell permeating from the kitchen into the inner courtyard.

Mum's Ginseng Tea Brew.
2 oz. Korean Ginseng
6 cups of water.

Put the sliced ginseng and water in a non-metallic teapot and bring to boil. Decrease the heat to simmering low and brew for one and a half to two hours. (the longer the brewing time the stronger the tea.) Pour the tea into a ceramic cup and drink hot. A tiny pinch of salt or honey may be added to tone down the bitterness.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What do you look for when selecting a Rockmelon to make sure it is good inside?

Nothing is more disappointing after lugging a heavy melon home, cut it open to find its colour pale and no flavor. What a waste of money and energy and a letdown to your taste buds. The only consolation is that you are not the only one. I have received many emails stating, "Uncle, how you can tell it is a good melon?". My answer is always the same - it told me so. Most fruits and vegetables will "tell" whether they are good or not. It's just a matter of using all of your senses when buying them. It applies when you are buying either fruits or vegetables.

First, look at them. You shouldn't see any decay or shriveled spots. If necessary, touch them with your hands, unless there is a sign prohibiting them. I know it is such an old habit you have learned from your mother when she shopped at the "wet market' back home, not to give the tomato a squeeze even they are ripening red in colour. Well, to be fair to the seller, keep your sense of touch to the minimal. But buying melon is a different story all together. Yesterday I bought this beautiful cantaloupe or rockmelon as it is known in Australia, from the local fruit market. To avoid any disappointment when buying a rockmelon, first, look at the cantaloupe's colour. Choose one with a tan or yellow, not green. and has well raised netting on the skin. Also, look at the stem end. The stem end should have clean indent where the the stem fully slipped off when the melon is ripe but if it is picked too early a little remnant of the stem will be still attached to it. Hold it close to your nose. It should give a distinctive, sweet smell and yield to slight pressure at the blossom end when pressed with your thumb.