August 28, 2010

Happy Merdeka Day and a Food From My Heart: Hakka Taro Abacus Beads (客家算盤子)

(WARNING: a VERY long post ahead. Read it at your own risk.)

Hibiscus, Malaysia's National Flower
National Flower of Malaysia: Hibiscus

I love Her, but She doesn’t love me. Albeit vaguely expressed, this is a dilemma I have for the place I call home.

On Aug 31, it is when my fellow compatriots and I would commemorate Her 53 years of independence. Among the Malaysians, the National Day is affectionately known as the “Merdeka Day.” (Or “Hari Kemerdekaan” in Bahasa Malaysia, which is our national language. “Kemerdekaan” is a noun derived from another noun “merdeka,” which means “independence.”)

I shall not go on snarling for fear that I might be barking at the wrong tree; hence, the possible censorship. What I do know of, though, is I have a loving family in the place I call home. They watch me grow up. They share the ups and downs of life with me even when I was miles away in the U.S. They redefine the word “home.” My homeland means much more than being a soil I grew up on. It is where I find love, warmth and support.

Coconut Trees--Rural Malacca, Malaysia

My Homeland and My Family

Perhaps, what I’ve experienced has molded me into someone who is of my mom’s opposite. Because we possess different beliefs and values, I can get into disagreement with her easily.

Before I left home for the States almost 4 years ago, my mom wouldn’t let me enter the kitchen. She distrusted my ability to be on my own for fear that I might burn down her kitchen! That was why I couldn’t even fry an egg properly before October 2006.

At times, my parents will still bring up anecdotes from the first days of their marriage. In my eyes, even though arguments are inevitable, my mom and dad are still the bestest best friends. It’s always fun to listen to their stories and watch how they tease each other. My dad always uses this particular episode to tease my mom: “以前是阿爸煮飯, 阿媽洗碗的! 我認識你老媽子的時候, 她是不會煮飯的!” (In Malaysian Chinese: “Daddy was the one who cooked while Mommy was the one who did the dishes! Your mom knew nothing about cooking when I first met her!”)

Though my mom still doesn’t admit that, I believe in the words of my dad. I think my mom was “forced” into taking up cooking shortly after giving births to me and my brothers. She only cooks to feed us. Cooking has neither been her real interest nor forte. Plus, she only picked up baking recently. She’s addicted to gardening and needlework instead.

I was a rebellious teen. I spent close to 2 years of my senior high school years living away from my parents, with my sixth great-aunt and –uncle (六叔婆與六叔公). My great-aunt is Hakka (客家人), while the rest of my dad’s family members are Cantonese (廣府人), including my sixth great-uncle whom I just mentioned.

A Food From My Heart

Taro Abacus Beads 算盤子

I’d be pampered with classic Hakka and Cantonese dishes. Once in a while, my great-aunt would fix Hakka taro abacus beads (客家算盤子), which are similar to gnocchi but made with taro (芋頭) and tapioca starch (薯粉) instead. These chewy morsels resemble abacus beads in appearance; hence, the name. They're first boiled and then stir-fried to be transformed into a mouthwatering dish. Of course then, knowing that we all love this dish, my mom was very eager to try her hands on making these abacus beads too.

Tapioca starch

My Teochew (潮州人) mom tells me that, “要消滅潮州人就要先消滅所有的芋頭!” (In Chinese: “One has to first kill all the taro plants in order to kill all the Teochew!”) There, I can apprehend how important the taro is for all Teochew.

Innards of taro
Taro: peeled and halved

Before she was struck by stroke 6 years ago, my mom would prepare abacus beads every so often to curb our cravings. Now that she’s only left with half of what she physically had, she doesn’t have the motivation to put herself into the long and oftentimes tedious process of making the beads. Watching her every day, I can understand her frustration.

My mom is not the best cook. Nonetheless, she took the efforts to learn to prepare abacus beads for us – by referring to a recipe, not my great-aunt. I’ve got to say hers are very good! So, I resolved that I absolutely have to master this classic Hakka dish.

Hakka Abacus Beads, My Mom and I

Since my mom was hit by stroke, she’s lost many of her handwritten recipes collected over the years. It’d be such a hassle for her to climb up and down the stairs and to rummage through her stacks of cookbooks and notes – just to retrieve her recipe for me. So, I turned to the online community of fellow bakers and cooks for my abacus beads.

Taro Abacus Beads 算盤子

Honestly speaking, it wasn’t my maiden attempt at making the abacus beads. Before I learned how to survive in the kitchen, I’d help my mom out with kneading the dough and shaping the abacus beads. This mother-and-daughter team would chat away. I’d often tease her, too. She’d “retaliate” by saying: “哎呀! 妳這個女兒養不熟的!” (In Malaysian Chinese: “Argh! How can you still behave foolishly after years of upbringing!”) I’ve grown accustomed to her remarks. I know she still loves me no matter how mischievous I am. Haha!

Ready to stir-fry
Making taro abacus beads in my mom's 22-year-old kitchen

See, I’m not quite happy with this particular batch. The abacus beads were mushier than desired, which gave me nightmare as they were being stir-fried. I’ll knead in more tapioca starch to the dough in my future attempts. But my taste testers commented that, “Hey, I can actually taste the taro within!” Surprisingly, they loved the beads! My folks really gave me a hard time trying to conclude the situation. Anyway, I’m looking for abacus beads that are chewy in texture – and yet, firm enough to hold their shape. (“Pei-Lin, don’t be stingy on the tapioca starch!”)

With that said, the abacus beads will definitely lose more taro flavor with the incorporation of more tapioca starch. That’s why the ingredients used to stir fry the beads are just as crucial. That is, they have to be infamously awfully fragrant and flavorful. My favorites include:

shiitake mushrooms 香菇;
Dried shiitake mushrooms 香菇

pickled daikon 菜脯 (left); dried small shrimps 蝦米 (right); dried squid 魷魚幹 (top);
Dried shrimps 蝦米, dried cuttlefish 魷魚干 & Chinese brined preserved daikon 菜脯

pressed tofu (豆干);
Diced dried tofu 豆干丁

… garlic; and scallions – or if not, Chinese chives (韭菜). Instead of salt, fish sauce (魚露) does wonders to this utterly flavorful dish too! Please refer to the recipe below if you’re interested to try Hakka abacus beads out! Some suggestions are also included therein: The beads can be Chinese Buddhist vegetarian-friendly too.

When it comes to Chinese cooking, there is really no fast and fixed rule. For me, it's usually executed based on eyeballing, memories and experience.

Carrying on With the Tradition

I’m dedicating this post to the Merdeka Open House 2010, as hosted by Babe_KL. This year, the theme is “Food From Our Hearts.” (Hey rokh, good job on suggesting the theme!) Exactly one year ago, I contributed Tambun biscuits (淡汶餅) to the annual virtual open house. How funny it is to remember that I submitted my first Merdeka Open House post a few hours before my 2-day flight back to Malaysia from the States!

I promised I’d be returning for the Merdeka Open House in the years to come. Glad that I’ve made it this year! Babe_KL, thank you for continuing this tradition since 2006! I’ll be back for next year’s. Want to join in the virtual feast? Hop over to Babe in the City – KL beginning Aug 31 for more yummy Malaysian dishes!

Chinese vendor selling roasted chestnuts (栗子) at Petaling Street (茨廠街), in Kuala Lumpur

Cute Malay Boy Dancing in Joy Whilst Watching Lion Dance!
The Chinese and Malay reveling on the street during Lunar New Year (dated February 2010; taken in Malacca)

I love Her, but She doesn’t love me. Again, this best sums up the feelings I have for the place I call home. No matter how divided or united we are on certain issues, no matter where we are in this world, I’d like to wish my fellow Malaysians

Selamat menyambut Hari Kemerdekaan Yang ke-53! 
(In Bahasa Malaysia: Happy 53rd Independence Day!)

Taro Abacus Beads 算盤子

Hakka Taro Abacus Beads 客家算盤子
Adapted from Sunflower's   改自Sunflower的食譜

To make the taro abacus beads:

500 ~ 550 grams taro 芋頭
1 teaspoon salt -- or adjust the quantity as necessary

4 ~ 5 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil e.g. sunflower, canola or rice bran oil -- adjust the quantity as necessary
180 ~ 225 grams tapioca starch 薯粉 -- or adjust the quantity as necessary
* The more tapioca starch there is, the chewier and firmer the texture of the beads will be. *

Enough water -- optional
* Add water only when the dough appears to be somewhat dry to work with. *
  1. Peel the taro, then wash it. Slice the taro in half. Take each half, slice it into 1~1.5 centimeter-thick slices. Repeat with the remaining half.
    * If you're allergic to the sap given out by the taro, do wear gloves to work with it. *
  2. Slicing taro in progress Steamed taro, fresh off the stove
  3. Steam the taro slices over high heat till they're soft and cooked through. Remove them from the heat, then mash them up real well with the salt while they're still hot.
  4. Knead in (A) to the mashed taro really well till you get a dough that's firm and smooth enough. If the dough still appears somewhat dry, knead in enough water -- a little at a time -- till you get the desired consistency; if the dough appears somewhat wet/sticky, knead in more tapioca starch -- a little at a time -- till you get the desired consistency.
    Before mixing the ingredients up
    Mixing the ingredients up to get a dough
    You may test the consistency of the dough by performing the following:
    Pinch out a small portion of the dough, say, of the size of a walnut, and roll into a ball. Then with your thumb, gently press down the center of the ball of dough to make a deep dimple. If the ball cracks badly, it means the dough is still dry. Knead in more water to the dough then to remedy the situation.
  5. Divide the dough into three or four equal portions; cover those you're not working with with cling wrap to prevent them from drying out.
  6. Dough
  7. Working with one portion of the dough at a time, roll the dough into a somewhat-thin log. Then, cut to divide it into equal bite-sized pieces. To shape the bite-sized pieces into abacus beads, the following is what's practiced in my household:

    Gently roll each piece into a ball in between your palms
    Shaping dumplings for abacus beads 1

    Then, gently flatten the ball slightly (till about 1.5-cm thick)
    Shaping dumplings for abacus beads 3

    Now, gently press down the center of the ball with a chopstick to get a deep dimple -- DON'T poke through the ball!
    Shaping dumplings for abacus beads 4
    Shaped dumplings for abacus beads, ready to be boiled

  8. Bring a deep pot of water to a rolling boil. Then, cook these raw taro beads in the boiling water till they float atop. Let them boil for another 20 seconds before dishing them up with a slotted spoon.
    Boiling taro dumplings
    Boiling taro dumplings

    Dish up the cooked taro beads with a slotted spoon and transfer them into a big bowl of cold water; immerse them in the cold water for a while to stop them from further cooking and to firm up their texture for a bit -- we want the springiness there. In spoken Cantonese, I call this step "過冷河," which literally means "to run through the cold stream."
    Boiled dumplings immersed to let rest in cold water
    Boiled taro dumplings, before stir-frying
    Just before stir-frying (i.e. the next step), scoop out the taro dumplings with a slotted spoon to drain out the water. If the dumplings stick together, sprinkle some cold water over them in order to "pull them apart."

    Cooked taro dumplings can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. But, do have them covered in cling wrap and kept refrigerated till you're ready to use them.

To stir-fry the taro abacus beads:

* Please adjust the quantity for all the ingredients below based on your liking, memories, and/or experience. This is the essence of Chinese cooking: no fast and fixed rule. *

Enough cooking oil -- for stir frying

3 large cloves of garlic -- minced
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger root 薑

2~3 large dried shiitake mushrooms 香菇幹 -- soaked in water for a few hours till softened; drained and sliced thinly
2~3 large pieces of Jew's ear 黑木耳 -- soaked in water for a while till softened and looked "swollen"; drained and sliced thinly
About a small handful of pickled daikon 菜脯 -- soaked in water for 5 minutes and coarsely chopped
2 heaped Tbsp dried small shrimps 蝦米 -- or to taste; soaked in water for 5 minutes; drained and roughly chopped, if necessary
Some dried squid 魷魚幹 -- soaked in water for a bit till softened, then drained and cut up into smaller pieces if yours is a large chunk; please adjust the quantity to taste; however, this is an optional ingredient
* I just eyeballed how much dried squid I needed. *

Jew's ear 黑木耳
Jew's ear 黑木耳

125 ~ 150 g ground pork
Some pressed tofu 豆干 -- washed, patted dry, and diced up; adjust the quantity to your liking
* I forgot to jot down how much I used. *
2 tsp dark soy sauce 老抽 -- optional
* I added this to "darken up" my abacus beads. A little will do. *

Taro abacus beads, which are prepared ahead based on the above recipe
* Unfortunately, I eyeballed the amount needed too. I just worked with how much I got from the abacus beads recipe above. *

2 ~ 3 tsp light soy sauce 生抽
1 Tbsp oyster sauce 蠔油
A pinch of ground white pepper
Dash of sesame oil 麻油
Salt or fish sauce (魚露) -- to taste

A handful of chopped scallions
A handful of chopped cilantro 芫茜
  1. In a large wok, heat up enough cooking oil till hot over high heat. Once the oil has become hot enough, sauté (B) till aromatic. Then, stir in (C) and continue to stir-fry till aromatic.
  2. Stir in the ground pork and stir-fry till it's cooked, i.e. it has separated and no longer looks pink. Then, add in the diced pressed tofu and stir-fry for 3~4 minutes to cook it briefly. Now, stir in the dark soy sauce.
  3. Add the taro abacus beads to the mixture in the wok, making sure that the dumplings aren't stuck together. Stir-fry briefly only to heat them up for a bit. Then, add in (D) and stir for a few minutes to incorporate everything together.
  4. Just before dishing up, stir in (E) to the mixture and toss briefly to ensure that the greens are scattered evenly throughout the mixture. DON'T have to cook the greens too much. Turn off the heat and dish up. Serve the dish hot or wait till it's reached room temperature. I love my Hakka taro abacus beads both ways.


You may make this dish (Chinese) Buddhist vegetarian-friendly, too, by --
  • Omitting the ground pork, dried squid, dried small shrimps, garlic, scallions, Chinese chives and fish sauce;
  • Incorporating ingredients such as diced carrots and diced green beans (四季豆), which I believe would make the whole dish less flavorful. (Well, Buddhist-vegetarian dishes are usually less intense in flavor due to some of the tenets held by many Buddhists in East Asia.) I'd first blanch these veggies in boiling water briefly just to have them almost cooked through before stir-frying them with the rest of the ingredients. Mix in the blanched veggies together with the dried tofu in step #2 for the stir-frying part;
  • Replacing regular oyster sauce with vegan oyster sauce.

    August 20, 2010

    Roast Chicken, Carrots and Potatoes With Rosemary 香草燒雞及甘筍薯仔

    Yesterday, something got me worried at work.

    A.K., a colleague of mine whom I’ve barely known for about 5 months, has sworn me with her professionalism, mature thinking, independent personality, and life experiences. I always bring my lunch to work, while she often has take-outs and spends her lunch break with me. We enjoy exchanging views about so many things, be it work-related, family and friends, or sometimes, cultures and foods. (Ah, still can’t run away from food! *LOL*) I guess what first tied us together was our experience as a college student abroad. Of course, she’s a few years more senior than I am. I’ve got so much to learn from her.

    Orchid & Kumquat

    We started out from the same college locally before getting transferred to another university overseas. A.K. ended up in England, where she met her husband and that changed her life forever. I wound up in the U.S., where my life was changed forever. From her, I got to know that in England, trying fish and chips, as well as eating Yorkshire pudding together with beef roast and gravy are a must. I remember when I was putting up an article on pancakes, I kept bugging her with my questions on Yorkshire pudding simply because I haven’t tried that myself. Haha!

    I didn’t get to see A.K. at the start of the week, which got me wondering how she’d been. Yesterday morning, she came back – but with a pale and slightly bloated face, and a frail body. I immediately had a shiver when she told me that she’s lost 20 percent of control over the right side of her face. A viral infection is suspected, but that’s yet to confirm. I feel so awful about what she’s going through. What’s making me worried even more is that she’s expecting a baby, and I know that’s not going to be easy on her. These days, she seems tired and vulnerable. Definitely not the A.K. I saw when we first knew each other. Life is SO unpredictable! *Sigh*

    After a brief conversation, we parted for our own desks and started working again. I suppose A.K. felt even worse after that. I watched her left work not too long thereafter. I thought I could talk to her during lunch break yesterday. Alas, that never happened. How I wish I could chat with her to cheer her up, like how she’s done to me occasionally when I’m down and tired. Looking on the bright side, the zombie me was elated to see her back with a smile on her face today. Glad to hear that she’s feeling better physically and emotionally. I hope better things are coming her way. Entering motherhood does sound exciting and yet challenging!

    Compared to her days abroad, A.K. doesn’t really cook now. She’d told me once her greatest feat in the kitchen – back then – was making a successful roast for a Christmas dinner. Feeling very curious and motivated, I too made my first roast because of her.

    I asked myself, “Why haven’t you tried making roast!?” Because I almost always got pampered by my dearest American family back in the States. There was always roast chicken, roast goat’s meat or roast ham, with oodles of potatoes and carrots ladled with warm gravy atop. What a comfort food that I miss dearly.

    On one Saturday afternoon last month, after gathering all the ingredients, I began preparing for dinner. (Well, I contributed only two dishes, namely, the roast chicken and cream of mushrooms. I’ll blog about the latter sometime soon.) See, I love cutting and chopping up stuff except onions. Luckily, no one is around me when I shed tears. Tsk, tsk!

    As I learn to cook and bake along, I’ve come to realize I can sometimes be crazy unpredictable. Carrots and potatoes weren’t in my plan until I saw a few of them lying on the counter. Recalling what my American mom and sisters would do to their roast, I only came to knew later on that I should have covered the whole pan of chicken and veggies with aluminum foil for the first hour of baking! (The bird was humongous for my 8x8-inch pan to be covered with a lid. Plus, my oven is pretty small compared to the one I had in the States.) The juice of the chicken at the bottom of the pan didn’t help with moistening the veggies either. *Sob* You know, the veggies turned out a tad dry and crisp! At least that was what my baby brother said. *Slap myself*

    Roast Chicken With Carrots and Potatoes

    The lazy Pei-Lin also relinquished the idea of thickening the "meat juice" with cornstarch, which is what my American family would do to theirs. With my American family, a big portion of the roast potatoes are sometimes churned into mashed potatoes, to which the gravy is then ladled over to serve. Yummy!

    Besides devouring the fruits of your labor, I suppose for any home cooks and bakers, the best part is to see your loved ones enjoying what you’ve made for them. I have a conservative Chinese dad and younger brothers whose taste buds just aren’t that adventurous. Oftentimes, what I’ve made doesn’t really agree with their palates. But on that Saturday evening, these words of theirs are forever etched in my brain, “哇,妳整d雞仲唔錯喔…唔會老又幾入味!” (In spoken Cantonese: “Wow, the chicken you made isn’t too shabby … not rubbery in texture but flavorful!”)


    Roast Chicken With Carrots and Potatoes

    Roast Chicken, Carrots and Potatoes With Rosemary 香草燒雞及甘筍薯仔
    Adapted from "I Love Baking," by Emily Wong   改自《香噴噴烤焗料理》。Emily Wong 著

    * When it comes to cooking (though this particular one requires roasting in the oven), I almost always execute my cooking escapades by eyeballing everything. *

    1 whole large chicken -- rinsed to wash thoroughly, then pat dry really well OR simply invert the bird so that its cavity faced down and let it drain away in a large colander, which was what I did
    * Dang, I forgot to jot down how much it weighed! I was too excited! *

    4~5 long sprigs of fresh rosemary -- remove the leaves and reserve, discard the stems
    2 medium-sized onions / 5 shallots -- minced
    * I used red onions. No wonder they made me cry so bad. *
    4 whole garlic -- peeled and minced
    * WHOLE -- NOT cloves of garlic. *
    4~6 Tbsp olive oil
    2.5~4 tsp salt, or to taste
    Freshly ground black pepper -- to taste
    Ground paprika -- to taste but optional

    1 lemon -- washed, pat dry and cut into halves

    Enough carrots -- have them peeled, washed and cut into large chunks prior to baking
    * Forgot how many carrots I used there. Honestly, this doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out. *
    Enough potatoes -- have them peeled, washed and cut into large chunks prior to baking
    * Forgot how many potatoes I used there. Honestly, this doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out. *

    Salt -- to taste
    Freshly ground black pepper -- to taste
    Enough sprig(s) of fresh rosemary -- to taste; remove the leaves and reserve, discard the stem(s); optional, though

    Enough honey
    A little bit of light soy sauce 生抽 -- to taste
    * Optional if you like a sweet glaze. But, my fussy family doesn't. *
    1. Combine (A) together for marinade. Then, rub the inside and outside of the bird really well with the marinade. Place the lemon halves into the bird's cavity; place the marinade-smeared chicken in the baking/roasting pan that you're planning on using later for baking. Next, cover with a sheet of cling wrap and let it marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight in the fridge.
      * I marinated mine for 4 hours in room temperature. *
      * I don't know why I always chuckle whenever I do the above. It's awkward I suppose. Haha! *
    2. If you did marinate the chicken in the fridge, remove it from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so just to warm it up slightly. Brush off any solids from the marinade, e.g. rosemary and minced onions, from the surface of the bird to avoid burning.
    3. Season (B) with (C), then arrange the seasoned veggies in the roasting pan. (Just stuff them in any corner available. Of course, don't crowd the whole pan!) Now, cover the whole pan with a large sheet of aluminum foil -- making sure that the foil clings onto the pan pretty well.
    4. Bake the whole deal at 180°C for 1 hour or till the chicken and both the veggies are done. To know when they are done, remove the foil:

      • For the bird, just stick a knife or skewer in any part of the chicken that comes with the most flesh, and when juices run clear, the bird is fully cooked!
      • For the potatoes and carrots, just stick a knife or skewer in them, and they're done when they can be poked through easily.
    5. Now, for the glaze, combine (D) together and glaze the chicken with it. Return the bird to the oven, without the foil on, and bake it at 180°C for another 10 minutes or till the skin has crisped up and to give it that sheen.
    6. Remove the bird from the oven and set it aside for 5~10 minutes to let the juice of the meat permeate evenly before carving/chopping to serve.
    Roast Chicken With Carrots and Potatoes
    The remnants of the bird, after dinner. For five small eaters, this ain't bad!

    August 11, 2010

    From Online to Reality, and Recipes Redux

    Amazing food, real talents, lovely company – from blogs I admire deep down my heart.

    Aug 08, 2010, it was, on a gorgeous sunny Sunday afternoon. Eleven bloggers made it to the potluck at Edith’s – with some family members, too. After close to a month of planning, I’m glad things worked out. It was worth all the efforts and time put forth to make the event a reality! The assemblage was comprised of:

    Aimei, of My Baking Cottage, who brought lavender and plain shortbread, as well as pork floss-seaweed Swiss roll; (Oops, I forgot to take a small bag of the cookies home! Sorry!)

    Bee Bee, of Honey Bee Sweets, who brought ban guan kuih;

    Edith, of pReCiouS MoMentS, who was the host of the event and provided the crowd with beverages, including air bandung;

    Grace F., of Kitchen Corner, who provided us with blueberry bakewell tartlets, as well as mini burgers that included home-made burger buns as well as beef-and-pork patties;

    Jess, of Bakericious, who brought along mango pomelo sago (楊枝甘露), as well as peach konnyaku;

    Josephine, of Sugar & Everything Nice, who shared with us her chicken curry that was to serve with bread;

    Shirley, of køkken69, who shared with us her mee rebus;

    Yan Ee, of Sweeter Side of Life, who brought along whole-wheat cookies, as well as egg sandwiches made of whole-wheat bread;

    You Fei, of lovingbaking, who joined us later due to her tight schedule, which was perfectly understandable; (Hey pal, no worries!)

    Me, I brought durian tarts and sablés Korova. I’d actually blogged about them earlier. (Click on the links for recipes.) In my humble opinion, I thought they are pretty good. I usually don’t repeat more than twice with a recipe. I’ve made durian tarts twice so far since February this year; I’ve made sablés Korova more than six times. With that said, they are really good! So, I decided to bring these two bakes to the potluck. (They also survive long hours of traveling, too.) If you’re interested in trying them out, be my guest!

    Durian tarts
    Dodol-like durian filling for durian tarts, all from scratch
    Pierre Hermé's sablés Korova
    The potluck lasted for close to 6 hours! I just wasn’t expecting the meet-up to run that long! I suppose without Edith and her family’s generosity in opening up her place to accommodate us all, I doubt it could last that long. It was really kind of her and her family to do so, to shelter us away from the scorching heat or possible complaints from restaurant owners for occupying their properties that long.

    Now, I’m not going to talk about what went on at the potluck. If you’re keen on learning more about what we did, hop over to my fellow bloggers’ sites, as shown above, for a glimpse of what happened – and to understand the meaning of the event from their perspectives.

    This Sunday’s bloggers’ meet-up wasn’t my first. To be accurate, it was my fourth. My first major one took place right at the end of Lunar New Year this year, which was initiated by blogger pal Quinn. That was a gathering among Malaysians scattered across the globe – except Bee Bee, who hails from Singapore. *LOL* After that, I got the opportunities to hang out more frequently with another two blogger friends Swee San and Tracie. Wendy came along at my third bloggers’ meet-up. It was so nice to be able to chill out with her and her daughter Lyanne from noon till close to 10 at night! Wow, I can be VERY talkative long-winded indeed! Haha!

    The following Monday, I also got to meet up with Esther, of Foodies’ Kitchen, who is another fellow Malaysian in Singapore. She was among the first to drop comments on my blog when it was still “lonesome.” *LOL* She’s been very encouraging all along. I’ve learned tremendously from her when it comes to cooking. Thank you so much! Thanks a million for the company, the gifts, and for letting me try Singaporean-style shrimp (or Hokkien) noodles (新加坡蝦麵或福建麵). We don’t have that in Kuala Lumpur!

    One may ask, “What gave Pei-Lin the courage to go ask around for such a meet-up among strangers?” My answers are simple: inspiration from other fellow bloggers who had done the same, the curiosity within, my interests in trying out each other’s culinary creations, as well as the eagerness to see the people I’ve been interacting with upclose and personal.

    All the while, people around me who don’t blog at all or as frantically as I do perceive me as a naïve and crazy girl who’s lost touch with the real world because I interact online more, especially after work hours. They simply don’t understand how it feels like to be a blogger! I told my best friends whom I’ve known since 13, that I’d be traveling for 5 hours, from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, to meet up with strangers whom I’d not seen before but have been interacting for sometime through blogging. They simply answered, “哦,妳小心點吧!” (In Chinese: “Oh, you better be careful!”) My family was skeptical too, initially. However, what surprised me was the moment I reached home, my family was curious about the meet-up and was eager to see the photos. Somehow, I’d successfully had them persuaded. I was surprised when they didn’t say, “Oh, you came home in one piece!” *LOL*

    After blogging for more than a year, I’m glad to say that blogging has brought me surprises in positive ways. In reality, I can be very quiet when a conversation lacks the chemistry needed to keep the ball rolling. When you’ve hit the green talking button within me, like I said, I can yadda nonstop. By now, are you guys convinced that I have bipolar personality? I can be terse – and cold too. One can never know. Haha!

    My lesson learned: have faith and confidence in any endeavors pursued. As a pragmatist and an atheist, I also believe actions speak louder than words. Of course then, everyone’s efforts matter. On the other hand, from a psychological standpoint, faith still plays a great part in pushing us further in any pursuits in life. (No, there's nothing religious to do with what I'm trying to convey. Like I said, I'm an atheist.)

    Without faith and confidence, I doubt I’d have the energy and motivation to keep pushing myself further over the last month as I mapped things out for the event, especially after work. It was exhaustive I got to admit, especially amid the many other things in life. That was why I was MIA for close to 2 weeks from blogging. Without that mysterious force called faith, I wouldn’t be able to trust the then-strangers. “I have faith in my blogger friends, I trust them,” I often say to myself. I hope they feel the same, too. I’m touched by the warm and overwhelming response they’ve been giving me.

    What struck me emotionally a lot was being able to FINALLY meet up with You Fei in person after talking to her online for the last 2 years or so. Before I started blogging, she’d be a diligent listener of mine about my kitchen experiments, and vice versa. (Thank you, buddy! I was so thrilled to see you! Could you sense that, too?)

    I’d like to pay my respect and give due credits to:

    Quinn and Swee San, for initiating the first few bloggers’ meet-ups that I went for – it was you who inspired me into making such (crazy and ambitious) decision; 

    Edith and her family, once again, for opening up your lovely home to us all for the potluck, and for having faith and trusting us even though you hadn’t met most of us before;

    Shirley, who guided me through as I organized last Sunday’s meet-up – thank you so much for taking me around to shop in town, for the company, the silicone mini bundt molds and "bunny bag," as well as your Teochew taro paste dessert (芋泥);

    Sonia, of Nasi Lemak Lover, who switched on the light bulb in me by giving me an idea on what to bring for our friends in Singapore – the darker and more herbal Klang bak kut teh (巴生肉骨茶) is a good choice; (I was struggling to figure out a nice gift for everyone there because Malaysia and Singapore share so much in common when it comes to culture, food and so forth. For those of you who aren’t from these two countries, check out our histories and you’ll know why.)

    And all my blogger friends who made the-once-a dream of having a large food bloggers’ potluck come true! I initiated this, but without you guys, it wouldn’t happen! It was teamwork! Thank you so much! The potluck turned out to be awesome! I’ll miss you all dearly even when I’m 5 hours up north from you guys!

    Before I end my long-windedness, I pledge that all you bloggers to have faith in whatever you pursue – and keep doing what you’re doing because you never know whose lives you’ll be changing the next moment – just like what you guys have had on me.
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