Sunday, September 27, 2009

Festive Raya

Selamat Hari Raya to all my Muslim friends !

Hari Raya Aidifitri is upon us. The important part of every Muslim's life in the month of Ramadan has ended. And the joyous celebration of Raya marks the end of the holy month.

Like so many others, I caught the fervour of the festive spirit in the city. Judging by the crowds that thronged the malls, business was brisk. For the ladies, the lovely clothes will spice their day and the men and little ones were not to be outdone too. In fact, I was looking for a baju kebaya to wear for a choir in November and I knew it was just the right time to be looking for one. As I window shopped, there were many things to enjoy.

Coincidentally, some shopping malls has the same themes of ' Balik Kampong'( literally ' returning home' ) atmosphere for the shoppers. Every Raya, millions of Muslims take this great opportunity to balik kampong to celebrate with their families and relatives. Months before Raya, tickets for travel, especially bus are snapped up well ahead of time to ensure the journeys are made. One song that I enjoy and I heard playing in the malls is the late Sudirman's 'Balik Kampong' which I feel gives so much added fervour to a homecoming. In fact, when I hear it, there's the added spring in my footsteps too :)

I caught the Malay cultural dances, the ketupat making, basket weaving, batik painting, and several traditional Malay crafts showcased to celebrate Raya. Tempting my taste buds were the chicken rendang, ketupat, lemang and the buah rojak sold in the stalls. The many varieties of cookies look so meltingly sweet but I do not have a sweet tooth. So, it's easy to to give them a pass:)

We made a long distance call to Edmonton, Canada to wish our friends, Seif and Shemila. They were truly delighted to hear our voices and told us they'd be in Kuala Lumpur in October.

During Raya , the festive spirit is extended to other Malaysians in the Open House invitations. It is a great way to celebrate one's festivities with the others - Chinese, Indians, and even foreign visitors. It was lovely to meet some old and make new friends at our Raya visits. For the young ones, there's the duit raya to look forward to. The joy of receiving cash in the special raya envelopes makes the young ones happy. I bought some orchids as Hari Raya gifts and made 2 trips to the Orchid Garden to pick my favourites.

Friday, September 18, 2009

More than STUMPED!

Past 1AM, Sunday 6 Sept,09. The loud whirling wind, ominous of an impending storm jolted my husband and I from our sweet slumbers.

Both of us bolted from the bed, sleepy-eyed,in auto mode to close the windows. The house seemed to shake and the rain was beginning to lash into the room. Trees were wheezing in the howling wind.

Out of the blue, a silvery bolt struck - we glimpsed a lightning streak of light zap past outide the windows.

Instantly - a crash thundered and we were plunged into total darkness. GAWD! We scanned hard but nothing seemed visible for any tell-tale sign.

We reached out for the standby slender emergency lamp and dialled TNB ( Tenaga Nasional Berhad). Hubby reported a storm had cut off the neighbourhood's entire power supply. They promised to act upon it.

Nothing to do about it, amidst rain and all. So back to sleep,tho intermittent. Luckily the mozzies were not active. Was it the sudden coolness of the air?

8 am - lo and behold! - looking out of our balcony, just out of the corner of our eyes, we were STUMPED - an old tree, well over 30 years had uprooted and lain across the road at the bend, lamp posts- cracked and snapped in parts were down , telephone wires were loosely hanging among trees,broken branches, and the green mess of leaves, wet and dishevelled on the road.

By then, curious residents with their children had come to check out the scene of destruction. What was on everyone's mind? Gratitude. No one was hurt. Thank God! I saw the parents took pains to talk about the incident.

What made the tree succumb to the freak storm? It seemed so old and strong. Someone said it was probably white ants at work. I didn't see any signs of termite activity as I had regularly tried to exterminate the big red ants that made their nests there. I was rather shocked to see there were hardly any roots yanked off. Obviously the long taproot of the pongamia pinnata which should have developed didn't.

10 am - men and machines moved in to tackle the mess. The whining and whirring of the chain saws began. Human voices rose above the machines shouting instructions. The backhoe scooped the cut logs mightily and dumped them into the lorries. Coping with the trail of destruction is heavy toil. Made me wonder of calamities that happen and brave rescuers put their hearts and souls to be the best they can be, on land, sea or air. I must say they worked hard, methodically tackling the tree - chunk by chunk. And the entire wreckage was hauled away in 2 lorries within 2 hours.

I took the opportunity to record the demise of a towering grand old tree, the pongamia pinnata ( Indian beech tree) , a deciduous legume tree. At the same time, I got to talk to the supervisor of City Hall workers my concern about some over-arching trees that lean so precariously further down the road. Some of the trees seem to have a poor root system. I was like a prophet of doom but best to ring the alarm bells before calamity strikes.

Now the hole is vacant, the drain cracked - near where the tree last stood. A week later,I was at a Gardening Soc talk and the vice -president, Dr Tan informed the members that a few saplings of the gnetum gnenom ( meninjau ) were on sale.I paid RM 10.00 for 2 really small ones in the polybag. I can't wait to transplant them in the ground. Well nurtured, they will grow to 15 metres tall.

I was told it is rather fast growing; the fruit is edible and the seed roasted, flattened, dried and fried makes the empeng crackers.

Keeping my fingers crosssed. Patience will be a virtue as I nurture this new plant. The wait begins...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Malaysia celebrates - 52 years of Independence

I come from a jewel of a nation, Malaysia.

We celebrated our 52nd National Day, Merdeka Day on 31 August. Our country has moved on, by leaps and bounds in many ways since our severance from British colonial rule in 1957. All the sweeter, as independence was achieved with no blood spilled.

Our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj led the crowd and shouted, 'Mereka!' (Independence) and the crowds echoed,'Merdeka!'at the Selangor Club Field (now known as Dataran Merdeka) The Union Jack was lowered and replaced by the flag of The Federation of Malaya.

This year it's no different that the country celebrates this significant day in our history albeit on a much smaller scale because of the H1N1 flu and being the holy month of Ramadan.

We cherish the fact that we are living in a peaceful nation. This country is my true home. This is where I was born. Home is where my heart is. My grandfather came from China and I've not to this day set foot in China tho I have it on my 'must visit' list but keep skipping it for one reason or another.

Here in Malaysia, it's a melting pot of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, Ibans and numerous indigenous people. A visitor would wonder, where am I ? Who is a Malaysian? We all are. See the faces of the children? - that's looking at us, Malaysians.

I thought I'd let my readers from near and far flung have a sneak peep into our corporate ads that showed up in full strength to celebrate Merdeka Day. Had there been a mammoth national parade celebration, thousands of people from all walks of life and from the corporations would have taken the march past before the King. Hope you the reader can soak in some Malaysian flavours there :)

There's so much to say in the pictures which tell our Malaysian story - our history, our diversity, our beauty, our togetherness, our achievements, our hospitality. Above all, our dignity and pride.

Every Merdeka Day brings with it the pledge to strive for the aspirations of one nation. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is a gargantuan task with this multi-racial mix.

Dear Malaysians , let's build on our shared vision , on our strength in diversity . Let's take our aspirations forward. Be non -prejudicial, be civil and responsible citizens. Unity is in our hearts and if we follow our hearts, Malaysia for all is truly ours to keep.

Happy Merdeka!

On a lighter note, enjoy LAT, our foremost and beloved cartoonist. This cartoon appeared on 31 August in the NST ( New Straits Times) - Yes, we're ONE, as always!! ( read: MAY post on 'it's LAT!')

Friday, September 4, 2009

Home grown - Bitter Gourd

A small vegetable plot is coming along in my garden. It has got my nephew all excited when he saw the odd cucumber and bitter gourd growing to maturity.

'You should get rid of your plants and grow veggies. There's so much space to have your own home grown'. ' Hang on there!' I said. It sent a shockwave down my spine. 'This small plot will do.I can't imagine my garden turned into a farm,' I protested.

Along my backyard fence, there's twisting and twirling and curling of the climbers - cucumber and bitter gourd. Such beauty in the way the tendrils twine. The fence never looked so pretty in all these years.! Thank goodness, I was advised not to be stingy feeding my plants. Admittedly, they were a bit skinny to start off and it worked wonders with extra helpings of nutrients. To think they were screaming ' feed me! feed me!' and I was such a 'kedekut'!

Bitter gourd, the wrinkly looking melon ,is ridged and tapered. I know it as 'pava aki', in Tamil, as I've heard my mother-in-law say it. Recently, with the fuits of labour, there's more than the usual pava aki to eat. It hadn't been a family favourite for its bitter taste. But at times, we've got to surprise ourselves by trying something new. Guess what? we've enjoyed the new dishes. Here goes one, Indian-style, to share with everyone:

Bitter Gourd : 800g, halved lengthways, pith removed and thinly sliced across
Salt 1 1/2 tsp
Tumeric powder 1 1/2 tsp
Cooking oil for deep frying
Skinned split black lentils (urad dhall) 1 tsp
Black mustard seeds 1 tsp
Onion 1, large, peeled and finely chopped
Curry leaves 2 sprigs, stems discarded
Coriander powder 1 tsp

Rub bitter gourd with salt and tumeric all over and set aside for 20 minutes.

Deep fry bitter gourd in hot oil until golden brown and crispy. Drain on absorbent paper towels.

Leave 1 1/2 tbsp oil in the pan and stir fry lentils until golden brown. Add mustard seed and stir -fry until they stop spluttering.

Add onion and curry leaves then saute` until onion turns golden brown.

Stir in chilli and coriander powders and remove from heat immediately. Add fried bitter gourd and stir to mix well. Serve hot with rice and other dishes.

Now for another bitter gourd dish,Chinese style to whip up. My friend, Kim celebrated her 60th birthday in great style.There was a lovely dinner party with a free flow of champagne at the Ritz Carlton. Guests were dressed in florals (no black, upon request). A group of friends sang songs for her, so did her dear husband who did a solo. These songs were given in a specially recorded cd. Also, a book of her loved recipes gorgeously bound with much love, was given to each guest. Thanks, Kim for the unforgettable evening and this recipe :

Stuffed Bitter Gourd


1 bitter gourd
6oz minced pork or chicken
2 oz shelled shrimp and minced
1 red chilli (sliced)
1 tbsp fermented black beans

(A) 1 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp slt
1 tsp sesame oil
1/3 tsp cornstach

(B) 21/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2cup water


1. Remove ends and stem from bitter gourd. Cut into slices 1/3 inch and remve seeds. Place in boling water with salt and cook for 2 minutes. Remove and place in cold water to cool and then drain.
2. Add (A) to minced pork/chicken and minced prawns.
3. Lightly dry bitter gourd then stuff with pork/chicken filling.
4. Heat pan and 1/2 cup oil until medim hot. Fry stuffed bitter gourd on both sides until meat is golden brown and remove.
5. Reheat wok and add 2 tbsp oil. Stir-fry fermented black beans and chilli. Add in bitter gourd and add (B) to simmer. Cook for 3 minutes over medium heat. Remove to serving plate.

Enjoy and let the bitter gourd surprise you !