March 24, 2011

And It Goes

There’s this urging voice in me. “Pen them down,” she whispers. “They may slip out of your hands.”

No. I don’t want my friends to slip out of my hands. But I do want to get these off my chest, they’ve had me suffocated for days. It’s time, if you may.

For almost one week, I worked overtime, which amounted to about 10 hours of work a day. I left the office by nine at night, and only reached home a little past 10. I’d then be busy picking up what was left undone until I could call it quit and finally tuck myself in bed. Five hours of sleep and there I was rising up to another day of challenges ahead. It’d been a ritual I practiced practice by all means.

As time elapsed, fatigue kicked in, alongside the handful of other problems I’ve subjected myself to, and you got this worn-out soul. I tried taking everything to myself but to no avail; I was on the verge of breaking down, turned emotionally agitated, and couldn’t stay focused. At times, I doubted if I was acting sensibly, for which is already a taxing requirement this artist has to put up with every day. Feigning a smile has got to be one of the toughest jobs in the world! (I’ve been in the creative industry, and I depend upon flow of words and ideas to earn a living, and I admit I’m quite a neurotic.)

All of which trickled down to damages. Irreparable damages.

My world speaks of cultural relativism. It comes down to from which angle you are to interpret the situation: I might or must have uttered and done something ridiculous and foolish, and things can’t now be undone. What were acquaintances are now “passersby.” I’ve been agonizing; I’m flooded with remorse; I don’t know if I should hurl all the blame at myself; I don’t know if I should patch things up.

Or maybe the scars shall remain. Just let go.

Across the concrete, towards the brighter days ...

I for one would never describe myself as wise, which is too strong of a word to use on a soon-to-be-24-year-old, for now, or maybe forever. Perhaps not immature, either, for which I’ve got years down the road to journey through, to grow, and to learn from. (Of course, I have to live long enough to experience that.) I’m learning to give and to take, to live and to let go. Maybe some people hold too high of an expectation of me; they haven’t realized I’m a lamb that has just been freed to explore the wild on her own.

It’s unfair to say my story hasn’t been anything but gloomy. I’m not easy to handle (oh, I’m temperamental!), and yet there are friends — true friends who would stick with me through the ups and downs. They lent an ear when I needed a shoulder to cry on; they were unafraid of sharing their views; they let me see things I could not have seen; they lifted me up when my world collapsed.

You may not know them, but I’m here to thank my friends anyway, especially Maria, Kent, Ee Vian, Traschia, Lee Ping, and Pei Lin (ah, another Pei Lin but in Singapore!).

Speaking of whom, Maria is actually a friend I got to know of recently through my new job. We’re the copywriters for the same organization, but she’s in Singapore while I in Kuala Lumpur. Though we’ve never met each other, I very much enjoy her company. She’s become a close buddy of mine at work: imagine the skepticism and occasional questioning from other colleagues — works of art sometimes can’t be explained! (Maria, I’m so going to bring you some treat should we ever get to meet up.)

In the meantime, I’ve been surprised and motivated by the encouraging words from my silent readers — wait a sec, they’re no longer silent!
“Just wanted too say. I love your blog. Please keep it going.”
“Hi! i just chanced upon your blog and i have to say i really like it. its well written, information, easy and comfortable to read as it has a personal touch. i especially enjoyed the post about how you came to be interested in food and cooking, really touching and inspiring stuff! jiayou!”

At this moment, I can recall only these two, since they’re the most recent ones of the handful of others I’ve received thus far. Pardon me, I apparently am aging fast and getting forgetful (and ornery). Nonetheless, to Anonymous, jc, CK (Carol), and the many others — whoever and wherever you are, thank you! Thank you for giving me the much-needed strength to persist in adverse times like this. (By the way, just so you wonder, “jiayou 加油” means to keep it up in Mandarin.)

As a token of appreciation and friendship, I’d like to dedicate these cookies to my friends and readers.

Chockablock Cookies

Soft, plump and moist. The chockablock cookies are chockablock with nuts, fruits, chocolate, oats, and love — loads of it. At first it may seem disproportionate (I shrieked when I saw the chunky, fragile cookie dough myself!), but trust me, the cookie-to-add-ins ratio in this recipe is deliciously bodacious. I hope you’ll like them.

Time heals all wounds. So did the chockablock cookies, they put a smile on my face. I can now get up, be resolute, and think clearly again. For my family and friends and myself, I’m going to stay strong and march on.

I apologize if I’ve somehow tricked you into believing you’re reading a food blog — an unadulterated one, or the fairytale of a young girl. Truth be told, this, however, has evolved into a catharsis of mine, a canvas on which I paint my not-so-beautiful stories, on which I share my love of food, language and all things visual. Albeit dear to my heart, there’s more to life than baking and cooking alone.

At the end of the day, bruises remain but life carries on; I lost and yet I gained. I’m still a queen, and I deserve better.



Chockablock Cookies

Chockablock Cookies
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan


(A)
170 grams all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt

(B)
55 grams unsalted butter, softened
55 grams shortening, at room temperature

115 grams granulated or caster sugar
118 milliliters molasses (not blackstrap)
2 large eggs, at room temperature

128 grams rolled oats

(C)
113 grams coarsely chopped nuts (such as walnuts, pecans or peanuts, or a mix of all three)
142 grams moist, plump raisins (dark or golden), or, coarsely chopped dried fruit (such as apricots, prunes or figs, or a mix of all three)
340 grams coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate, or, good-quality chocolate chips
40 grams sweetened shredded coconut (I used unsweetened one)


Sift (A) into a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together, and set aside. Preheat the oven to 160°C.

In another large mixing bowl, using a hand mixer, at medium speed, cream together (B) till very smooth, for about two minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another two minutes. Mix in the molasses and beat for one more minute. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating one minute after each addition.

Reduce the speed to low and stir in the oats and flour mixture, mixing only till they disappear into the dough. Using a sturdy wooden spoon or spatula, toss in (C) and mix to incorporate. At this point, you can choose to wrap the dough real well in cling film and refrigerate for up to two days, or measure out the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet(s), freeze till firm, then put mounds of dough in Ziploc bag(s), seal well, and freeze for up to two months. These frozen ones can be baked straight out the freezer, adding a few more minutes to the baking time.

Divvy up the dough by two rounded tablespoonfuls, and place the mounds of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet(s), leaving about four centimeters between the mounds.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the cookies are golden and just about to set. Remove from the oven, and let the cookies set on the baking sheet(s) for about five minutes before transferring to cooling rack(s) to cool completely. Serve or store in airtight container(s).

March 17, 2011

Them, and March 2011

When I think of March, I think of them; their birthdays; St. Paddy’s Day and the color green.

Matcha au Lait Cheesecake 抹茶歐蕾芝士蛋糕

To my high school best friend, when I was that quirky nerd (I still am actually, have been more of an artistic person, which explains my eccentric personality), I was a target among the bullies inside the classroom. But, she’d erase the stigma surrounding me and approach me as a friend. That conversation ignited our friendship 11 years ago, and is still burning today. (Not that she herself was a nerd; she’s never been one, in fact. It’s just that we click.) Lee Ping, thanks for being there for me, always.

Same goes to my American best friend, who fetched me back to my apartment after an evening class, when it was icebox temperature outside and we were summoned to a wind chill warning by the meteorologists. She showed me how it feels like to be part of the Minnesota nice (it’s a myth I subscribe to!), and how one learns through cultural openness. Becky, thanks for embracing me into your life — into part of the American experience, and for unlocking yourself to my side of the story and culture. (See you and Ryan soon in Malaysia!)

To my American dad, when I was that lonesome student in the first days of my stay in Minnesota, you came into my life. You lent me a helping hand whenever I was stranded amid difficulties. You taught me not to say “boring” — that we take charge of our own lives. You gave me the chance to learn and grow; the wings to fly and to be myself. Steve, thanks for guiding me through.

To my American sister Martha, when I was that dull girl who buried herself in a sea of textbooks, you brightened up my taste buds with your delectable bakes and dishes; you enlivened me with the joy of baking and cooking. Martha, thanks for helping me find my true passions, and for inspiring me to pursue what I truly enjoy — and for reminding me of St. Paddy’s Day and its color, green! You’re my favorite St. Paddy’s baby!

I don’t celebrate St. Paddy’s Day, but I do commemorate the birthdays of the most important people of my life — even when they’re miles away.

My high school best friend is in Taipei; my American best friend in southern Minnesota; my American dad in northern Minnesota, while his daughter, Martha, in North Carolina; and I’m home in Kuala Lumpur. We can’t see each other physically, but etched in our memory is the presence of each other and the time spent knowing each other. I make sure I remember their birthdays so that special messages will reach them with an impeccable timing.

And to top it all off, in this case, since I run a (food) blog, a virtual birthday treat to celebrate their birthdays and St. Paddy’s. This time around, a milky green tea cheesecake should do.

Matcha au Lait Cheesecake 抹茶歐蕾芝士蛋糕

After letting my American dad try some green-tea-flavored dessert, I know that Steve isn’t a fan of that “grassy” taste. Steve, I know you’re reading this, and I can assure you that this green tea cheesecake doesn’t taste grassy, at all. Imagine sipping on lusciously smooth milk tea — now we’re talkin’.

Dense. Not cloyingly rich. Creamy, with the soothing earthy note of green tea. It’s got a sweet milky green color, too. A dessert fit for the greenish theme of St. Paddy’s. And you know there’s a proper way to savor chilled baked cheesecake, right? (If you know, well, ignore the rest of this paragraph and read on.) Remove the cold, firmed cheesecake from the fridge, refrain yourself from eating, and diligently let it sit on the counter to soften up a little before tucking away. Now that, after all the hard work spent in the kitchen, you’ll be rewarded with dessertspoonfuls of plush, velvety bites that melt in your mouth, little by little.

And I’m sure Steve, Martha, Becky and Lee Ping would enjoy this green tea cheesecake, as much as I do, had they been presented with one in real life. Nothing fancy. Just a simple, greenish homemade green tea cheesecake saturated with tender loving care.

And to those affected by the quake, tsunami, and nuclear catastrophe in Japan, I’d like to send my thoughts with you, wherever you are.


There’s this clash of feelings that’s grappling me. It’s odd. It’s surreal. March of 2011, I shall remember you, too. Always.




Matcha au Lait Cheesecake 抹茶歐蕾芝士蛋糕

Milky Green Tea Cheesecake (Cheesecake au Matcha au Lait 抹茶歐蕾芝士蛋糕)
Adapted from Cheese Cake Book, by Junko Fukuda, Kumiko Yanase, and Yasuyo Shida
改自《我愛乳酪蛋糕》。福田涥子、信太康代、柳瀨久美子/著


150 grams digestive biscuits, or, honey (plain) graham crackers
54 grams unsalted butter, melted and let cooled slightly

(A)
390 grams cream cheese, softened
124 grams caster or granulated sugar

78 milliliters heavy cream
1 medium-size egg, at room temperature
1½ tablespoons cake flour, sifted

(B)
3 teaspoons matcha powder
3 teaspoons caster or granulated sugar

1½ tablespoons cherry brandy, or, kirschwasser


Lightly grease the sides of a 23-centimeter springform pan, and line with parchment; line the base of the pan with aluminum foil. Secure the ring (i.e. sides) to the base of the pan. (Well. You know how to use a springform pan, don’t you?) Then wrap two layers of aluminum foil on the outside, around the base and sides of the pan. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Place the digestive biscuits into a Ziploc bag, press to force the air out of the bag, and seal the bag tightly. With a rolling pin, bash the biscuits into fine crumbs. Alternatively, a food processor will help you do the job. Mix in the melted butter, then press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan to get an even layer. Chuck the whole thing into the fridge to chill.

In the meantime, using a hand mixer, cream together (A) till smooth and creamy. Then, stir in the heavy cream, and followed by the egg, in two to three times to avoid curdling of the mixture. Next, mix in the sifted flour. Whisk together (B), and stir into the batter to combine. Lastly, mix in the liqueur.

Pour the batter over the crust, and place the whole pan into another larger baking pan that comes with sides taller than those of the springform pan. Prepare the bain-marie by filling the baking pan with boiling-hot water. Place the assemblage into the preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes, till almost cooked through and the cake’s surface begins to spring back when gently touched. Turn off the oven, leave the oven door opened ajar as you let the cheesecake cool to room temperature in the oven.

Remove the cooled cheesecake from the oven, the bain-marie, and then the layers of aluminum foil. Refrigerate for at least at least three hours, preferably overnight, before slicing to serve. Cheesecakes, including this one, keep real well in the fridge. (Mine kept for seven days, since my family consists of small eaters.)

March 9, 2011

Make It Snappy!

A muffin, mini or jumbo, is handy enough to be held in your hand. On its own, it makes a delicious and filling snack. Needless to say, muffin making, by itself, is easier than a piece of cake (pun intended).

A grab-and-go charmer, how can a busy working lady like me not be enamored of muffins! Muffins are such straightforward affairs — more than three years ago, when I was still a college student in Minnesota, they were the first thing I baked.

And when I think of Minnesota, I think of blueberry muffins, the state muffin of this U.S. Midwest state.

Blueberry Yogurt Muffins

Fresh off the oven, blueberry muffins are moist and flavorful. I love the light citrusy touch of the vanilla-kissed interior. I marvel at their purplish streaks and highlights, as though they are roaring volcanoes that are erupting blueberry juices!

The blueberry muffin recipe below embraces plain yogurt, which, when mixed to the batter, tickles your tongue with a bit of tang. Most importantly, it serves a role: introducing moistness to the muffins.

This recipe asks you to mix and bake, and then chow on warm, freshly baked muffins. (Be patient as you let them cool, though. Who wants a burned tongue!) It yields slightly denser and coarser muffins that are just as good as lighter ones. I got this fantastic recipe from somewhere, but forgot to jot down the source.

Blueberry muffins make the simplest treat. Just remember not to overmix the batter, and to use frozen blueberries (do not thaw!), if possible, to avoid a pan of purple muffins.


Blueberry Yogurt Muffins

Blueberry Yogurt Muffins
* I forgot to jot down the source of this recipe, like I said. If someone knows of its author, please let me know so that I can give him/her due credit! Thank you so much! *

(A)
1 egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten
55 grams granulated or caster sugar
60 grams neutral-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola oil
2 tablespoons milk
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
120 grams thick plain yogurt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup frozen blueberries, or to taste

(B)
145 grams all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt


Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line regular-size muffin pan(s) with muffin liners, and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together (A). Set aside. In another small mixing bowl, toss the frozen berries with some all-purpose flour to coat them well. Set aside. This step helps prevent the berries from sinking to the bottom during baking.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together (B). Make a well in the center, and pour in the wet ingredients. Using a wooden spoon, stir to mix until the ingredients are just combined. Traces of flour should have barely disappeared and the batter will look lumpy. Halfway through mixing, stir in the floured frozen berries.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s), filling each cup to 80 percent full. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center. Remove from the oven, and let them sit in the pan(s) for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack(s) to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

March 7, 2011

I’m Alive and Kickin’!

This blog has been quiet. It’s been close to two weeks since I last spoke here. Hi. How are you?

A few days ago when I looked into the calendar, I couldn’t put myself in the position to actually believe that we’ve marched our way into March! (And now it’s already the second week of this month! *Gasp*)

The year 2011 has been nice to me so far. A couple of weeks ago, it was all about running errands at home and around the town. I took a little break from work, and so managed to squeeze in a little time here and there to accomplish things I normally did do not get to work on. Well, I wouldn’t call that an indulgence, but rather, an opportunity. (Oh, and yes! I got to sleep in! Cheers to that, too!)

And of course, friends have kept me occupied as well. I know it’s awfully late to even talk about these, nonetheless I feel compelled to send a shout-out to the following lovelies for inviting me over for some huge-on-the-tummies Chinese New Year festivities: Reese and her daughter, Sonia and her son, Swee San, Tracie, Wendy and Veronica. And you know what, we thought it wasn’t enough.

Except Wendy, who stays three and a half hours away from Kuala Lumpur, and Tracie, who has returned to Brisbane to further her studies, the rest of us were reunited at, this time, Veronica’s for a late lunch an early dinner. I missed Sonia and her children, though, since I turned up later. Veron, thanks for hosting us at your abode and for the good food and company! (Wendy, you’d been missed!)

Group Photo
A late-Chinese-New-Year gathering at Reese's (photo courtesy of Reese and her daughter, Cheryl).

By now, I’m thoroughly convinced that women are made attentive, patient listeners who can chatter on any given topics for hours. Swee San, Veronica and I rattled from four in the afternoon till an hour before midnight! Well, it wasn’t the first in my history anyway. I’m shy, to be honest, but I can take myself by surprise at times! How do I do that!?

Then early last week, I began a new job, writing for a totally different industry and to still-alien audiences (erm … hopefully not for long), and by which I’ve been made a weary traveler since. Glad to know that I’ve been having success in kicking myself out of bed by 6.30 a.m. and then reaching the office by nine. Every day after eight hours of sedentary office-armchair-and-computer therapy, another two hours or so are spent commuting so that I can get home safely and call it a day. Also taking into account all the transiting and whatnot, I’m dog-tired.

And so, all of which explain my long absence here.

Thank goodness I’m still sane and can live up to my own expectations and level of productivity. Also early last week, I wrote a short piece of article for Don’t Call Me Chef, a monthly food column for The Star (an English paper in Malaysia). And it goes to press today, in which I’m a featured blogger. Let’s talk about breakfast this month! Hop over to the column’s Website for more breakfast recipes, including my little contribution there: an easy-peasy blueberry yogurt muffin recipe (even a busy working lady like me can whip them up in minutes!).

A Featured Blogger

In one or two days, I shall post the recipe and feature up on this blog too. I know I’ve been very inactive over here and in visiting blogs, so here’s my apology to you — my reader — and to you — my blogger friend. Thank you also for being supportive all along. You’re the force that keeps me and this blog going!

You’ve made my day! Have a gorgeous week ahead!

Blueberry Yogurt Muffins
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