Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Oh! There's A Bevy of Naked Ladies in My Garden...

This morning we were greeted by a bevy of naked ladies in our garden. Blushing pink and scented with the most delightful perfume, they had been waiting eagerly to be invited into our home as if it’s the most natural thing for us to do. Of course it was the most natural thing to do. Besides we had just heard a storm warning in today’s morning news and Sydney and the Blue Mountain and its surroundings had been lashed with cyclonic rain and unprecedented flash flooding this summer. How could we leave these damsels out in the open to face the impending storm? Anyone would have done the same thing and invite them into their home without a second thought. They are gently ushered into the living room so that we can introduce them to anyone who comes to visit us for the next few days.

Here’s the introduction.

Our naked ladies are also known as Amaryllis belladonna plants and bulbs. Our pink flowering Amaryllis Belladonna is a particularly attractive form which bears a cluster of 4 to 12 funnel-shaped flowers at the end of their stalks and like its white relative will reach a height of about 75cm. The pinkish fragrant flowers appear on a bare stalk without the foliage, hence the name (Belladonna actually means beautiful lady).

Late in spring, long leaves appear, then die back down to the bulb. The bulb produces clusters of fragrant 75mm long trumpet shaped flowers ranging from white to pinkish in colour in mid-summer to autumn.

The naked ladies are easy to please and do not mind if they have not been pampered while growing in the garden. The cultivation of Amaryllis belladonna requires very little attention. Amaryllis belladonna can be grown from seed or from clumps of bulbs divided from the mother bulb during the dormant period. The bulbs must be planted with their necks at soil level. The belladonna can either be grown in large pots in the veranda using a very porous soil mix or grown in a sunny position in the garden. You will be rewarded and enjoy the gorgeous annual visit these damsels provide for your garden or home.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Old Chengku (Batu Lesong) has joined Celebrity Chefs

To think of my mother’s kitchen is to remember the ever present sight of the grey granite mortar with its heavy pestle sitting in the corner of the kitchen floor, waiting faithfully to pound the mounds of fresh or rehydrated chillies, ginger, fresh turmeric, galangal, shallot and garlic on a daily basis.
Long before it was used by many Western celebrity chefs and featured prominently on a modern kitchen bench, the granite mortar and pestles have been used by generations in Singapore and its neighboring countries to make curry pastes and to grind produce and spices. It was the original food grinder used by our parents and their generations before. Many older Singaporeans would steadfastly defend that the fine flavors produced from foods ground in a granite mortar and pestle are far superior to the flavors of foods ground in a metal-bladed blender. Although, it is an indispensible kitchen tool to prepare a good chilli sambal, it is still an ancient skill to be acquired; the end result very much depends on the user as the grinding time and pressure of the pestle has be adjusted accordingly during the process. The true quality of a Nonya family’s meal depended on the hand grinding skill on its sambal paste, hence the old Nonya saying “one can judge a new daughter-in-law’s cooking skill by tasting her sambal.”
In order to keep the flavour of the food pure and provide years of service in the household kitchen, a properly cleaned granite mortar and pestle has to be maintained. Granite is especially prone to staining when exposed to acidic and oily foods.
Simply rinse the mortar and pestle in warm water immediately after use and clean it with an abrasive dish sponge to remove any stubborn food residue left behind. Rinse again and dry the mortar and pestle with a clean cloth before putting away.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Foul-Mouthed Imported Garlic...

Without a doubt, foul mouthing imported garlic is not only valid but justified for those who are concerned with food miles (that is, how far food has travelled and the amount of carbon produced in the process); it is also a concern for those who want to consume fewer chemicals. It is a known fact that garlic is usually treated with growth retardants and other chemicals when it is brought into Australia.

Unfortunately, the local garlic industry is relatively small and labour intensive, imports make up a large percentage of the garlic consumed in Australia.
There are no better reasons why I have started planting garlic in my backyard. Firstly, it is relatively easy to grow and highly rewarding task. Also, growing your own garlic means you get to eat a fresh, organic product from your own backyard, reduce the carbon footprint and one that hasn’t been imported.

I have been waiting patiently to harvest my first crop of home-grown garlic which I have planted at the end of last autumn. Autumn is the best time to grow this aromatic bulb and an essential ingredient in Chinese stir- fry but before planting it’s important to prepare the soil. Garlic prefers alkaline and hates acidic soil, so you might need to rake in some dolomite into the garden beds.
It seems ages for the bulbs to grow but I have pulled out some plants to check on the bulbs as the foliage has die down in recent days. I think I have to be patient just now and wait for another couple of days before I harvest them.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Singaporean tables manners, Please.

At the dinner table last night, I was temporarily lost for words after my son asked me why I always emphasize on our guests to eat the rice and vegetables even there are meat and other dishes on the table. I soon realized that he is referring to the usage of the Hokkien dialect “chiak png (吃飯) and “chiak chye” (吃菜);as a form of respect to invite our elders and guests who are present to partake the meal at the table.

“Rice” ( png 飯) and “vegetables” (chye 菜) are the two main categories into which the older Singaporean Chinese divide all meal. Rice is the basis of every normal family meal, without which most Singaporeans especially the older generations do not feel properly fed. I can still remember the look on my late mother’s face when I told her we were having a sandwich for lunch, when she came to Sydney to visit us for the first time. To my mother, a meal without rice was merely a snack and not a proper meal. Her meal was consisted primarily of rice. It was only rice that was able to give its substance and worth. It was her staple and was still far more central to her diet than the daily bread of the west, ever was. ‘Vegetables‘(chye 菜) was the word my mother used for everything else, including meat and fish. Whatever “vegetables” were present that accompanied the rice, no matter how delicious, it was merely accompaniment that offered texture flavour to the somewhat bland but important staple. “It only added dimensions for the palate but rice filled your stomach! “ she used to say in disdain and chided at anyone in her hungry brood, who ever dared to complain about the frugal portion of food she served in hard times and when household money was scarce.

With most Singaporean family meals, all dishes are set in the middle of the table beside the rice, which is usually spooned onto a rice bowl or plate as the meal begins. Unlike the west, there is no sequence when eating a meal. You may start from a hot curry to stir- fry vegetables then some pungent sambal or pickled chillies, relieved by a drink of water. Although there are few constraints at the table, one of the few is that you do not take too much or too great a variety at one time. It is only bad-mannered to load too much onto the plate – it doesn’t matter if you are dying of hunger at that time. At a Singaporean table, do what the Singaporeans do, take a little of one type at a time, and mix with some rice. When that is finished, a different food is taken to be mixed with the rice. Happily, however there are no constraints on the number of times one can return to the dish but rather a sign that one appreciated the tasty food. But please leave the last piece of morsel on the dish for the host and said “chiak chye” in return.