Dec 29, 2012

0 Getting My Priorities Right For Christmas Dinner

"Baaahh! Everyone does it!"

Still, that uncomfortable feeling that there is some truth to it refuses to leave my sensible heart.

It would seem that it is impolite to leave your guests unattended for long periods  while you slave away in the kitchen for that magnificent meal. I read this from an article years ago while searching for dinner party tips.

Why host a party if it's not to mingle and catch up with friends and family? You cannot treat your home like a restaurant where communication is coldly an "I serve, you eat" thing. Stop, I say! Just some of the mental bashing that went on in my mind.

Over time, I strove to do things a little differently, to join my guests in the living hall instead of greatly insisting that I needed to attend to that pot of curry on the stove..but why not? why not? It boils in robust flavours and I like tending to it.. or run around like a maid serving drinks and tidying up.

There my friends were - doing absolutely nothing but talk and laugh. Here I was mightily doing "everything". How very important I felt..the doer, not the talker only to realise at the end of the day that I had missed out on the very thing that wise men loved to preach : Stop and smell the roses. Yes, instead of embracing personal moments with people I care about, I had squandered my precious time babysitting a lifeless wok. I had missed little scenes of endearments because I was rushing by to get something done.

That said, I broke no sweat over this Christmas meal for seven and I did it simply by choosing not to complicate matters with over-the-top recipes and deciding not to engage in anymore self-important slaving antics. 

To begin with, I prepared a few dishes days in advance - an egg filling, the potato salad, eggnog and iced longan for dessert. You could say that my fridge was full.

I don't know if anyone cares for the recipe but I'll include it anyway.

The egg filling is something I usually make for sandwiches. I mashed some hard boiled eggs in spoonfuls of tartar sauce, some mayo and flavoured pepper. It took me only minutes to get this onto the table on Christmas day. Just slap the egg mixture onto a Pop-Pan spring onion cracker and garnish with fresh spring onions. I love Pop-pan because it's a little more solid, wider than other brands and very aromatic.

Yummy!

This is a simplified potato salad recipe. I boiled cubed potatoes in mildly salted water until cooked. Then, drained the water and left it to cool.

After that, I stirred in blue cheese dressing and also folded in a spoon of mayo after tasting.

I found the cheese a little too overpowering so mayo was the only thing I could think of to balance things out. Ha! Don't give me that look!

With that out of the way, I popped it into the fridge. Just before serving, I sprinkled bacon bits and spring onions over the top.


I absolutely love making longan popsicles because it's great for humid days and very fun to eat!

The recipe is fairly simple. Blend cucumber (without skin) with a spoonful of lemon juice until it's paste-like. not watery. Stuff the cucumber mix into syrup sweet King Longans (from a can) and freeze it.

I use ice trays to keep the stuffed longans separated because I don't want to have it sticking to each other.








There were only two dishes I had to prepare on Christmas day itself. One was a vegetable salad and the other, roast chicken with grapes. Both very easy dishes to prepare.

I needed only about 15 minutes to prep the chicken up for the roast.

Then, I was free to start on the salad which involved a quick work of cutting the vegetables up bite size. I poured thousand island dressing over it right before munch time.

I didn't get round to serving the eggnog. We were stuffed festively full.

My sister-in-law who has a penchant for dish-washing, offered to clean up. So at the end of the day, "weary" never made it into my bones nor was I an elusive object to my guests. In Richard La Faber style - clap, clap, clap.
Chicken, onions and grapes slathered with salt, pepper, rosemary and butter, baked at 180c for roughly 1 1/2 hours
.

Dec 25, 2012

0 Merry Christmas ♥


May your hearts be warmed with peace, love and joy this Christmas ♥
.

Dec 23, 2012

0 In The Spirit Of Things

I love getting into the spirit of things although I'm not religiously pious. It's an excuse for get-togethers that are out of the norm. The norm, that is, a meal outside at some restaurant, with plain old chit-chat. Festivals on the other hand adds a little splendour to it all with decorations and little fun activities done together. It reminds us to love, forgive and forget.

The Winter Solstice Festival fell on the 21st December this year - a date synonymous with the Mayan prophesied doomsday..Booyah! We're still here!.  In our family, having tangyuan is a must because it symbolizes family togetherness. I cooked some store bought ones with sweet ginger syrup. We all need a little shortcut once in awhile.

TangYuan - Rice glutinous balls
With Christmas around the corner, I was kept on my feet for the whole week from cleaning the home to putting up decorative elements and going on full-day outings with friends. It is often said that we put on weight during the festive season but at the rate I'm going, I'm pretty sure the weighing scale will beg to disagree.

In the midst of dressing my home with all things Christmassy, I have stubbed my toe more than twice, bruised my arms and legs and had close calls to slipping. I look the part of the battered wife. Unfortunately, this isn't a play...my big toe hurts. There is a triangular mark of blue-black on it. It looks like an undecorated Christmas tree. Perhaps it is a sign that I should get a new pair of shoes to get into the festivity of things...*random thought*. That will be the day!

By the end of it, I was pleasantly pleased with the transformation of my home. I would have put in a fireplace but that would surely be a mockery of my roots. A fireplace in my country? Bah! That's what happens when you watch too much TV. You start thinking in a certain way how things should look because this is what is played over scenes of romance and cosy family cuddles.

The task of doing up the home for any festive season may seem monumental but I make the effort every year because the warm memories add beautiful pages into my life.

The dining table is dressed for the occasion. Are you?

Chocolates for the kids..big and small

The Christmas Tree

Dec 18, 2012

4 A New Look For My Guest Room

This is a follow-up from my previous post.

I'd been toying with the idea of having a crisscross design on one side of the wall. I knew I was going to use masking tape to help me achieve the look I had in mind. I just wasn't sure if it would turn out well. The last thing I want is for it to turn out too webby. No offense there, Spidey.

The project of crisscrossing was carried out at night. My partner and I went back and forth the room to get a better view of where we were going to cross the lines next. It wouldn't look too good if the lines were all concentrated in one area. After that was done, we painted the entire wall, over the tape.

In between all this, I only realised that there were curious onlookers in the building opposite ours when I happened to glance out of the window for a break. They must be wondering why we were taping our windows...

The next night was spent peeling the tape off but before that, did I mention that I was so excited that I kept peeking into the room to check on it.. not that there was anything to check on. It was just the magnetising effect of overwhelming pride that attracted me to the room.

The end result is remarkably pretty. I would do it again... but knowing me, maybe not. I prefer opting for "different" IF I could.

Here are some photos I snapped ..and snapped, snap!...snap! snap!...whoaa, fifty plus?! Outrageous.

Masking tape crossed all over
The peel-off!
Mmmm..pretty in Ashley Pink
A daytime photo
The finished product

Dec 16, 2012

6 My Little Paint Project

I'd been thinking about re-painting the guest room for ages. I've always felt that it needed to be a little brighter and in more cheerful colours, but I've never made the move to do it. Perhaps I didn't think it was THAT important.

Who knew that these thoughts would become a reality one day..

After encouraging response from people at home, I placed an order with Nippon, the paint specialist.

Yesterday, I started on my little paint project.

Little? < ---- understatement of the year.

I would have covered myself with some sort of protection if I wasn't feeling overly gung ho about it. My judgement was clouded for a moment there. It didn't take long for me to realise the folly of just "getting down to it".

It started with me losing patience over opening the can of paint. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the cover to budge. Frustrated, I grabbed a pair of scissors and pried it open...a little too hard. Splat!!

"Omigosh! My face! My face!"

I stumbled dramatically into the bathroom like a victim of an alien attack. I could only see through the little opening I could afford between my eyes. There was a splash of  thick paint right in the middle. I looked like I had web on my face and a spot of grey hair. Thank goodness this was water-based paint and it washed off easily. That unexpected exercise delayed my paint project by almost an hour.

I returned to the room to realise that the mess was worse than I expected. The longest sigh escaped my lips as I assessed the damage. I got down on my knees and began scrubbing paint off the floor.

By the time I actually began painting the walls, I was hungry and exhausted. How embarrassing for me.

Have you ever felt like you just didn't want to care anymore? That's how I felt that moment. I became possessed by the "can-do" spirit. Nothing was going to stop me from doing this, I thought. Big strokes, up, down - the mantra I chanted, to keep myself going. The only protection I had on was a shower cap. The worst had passed, surely.

The end of the day saw me admiring two freshly painted walls. I was so pleased with myself although I had paint everywhere on me. At the same time, my hair was given a homemade steam treatment.

Aaah, what a day I have had. Today, I painted the rest of the walls. I am excited to see the overall results especially the corner where I attempted some creative paintwork. Nothing fancy for this first-timer. 

I'll be seeing the fruit of my labour soon. For now, I wait impatiently for the paint to dry. Fingers crossed that it turns out well.

Phew..this is a lot of work

Whoaa...

Dec 13, 2012

2 Christmas Meal : Roast Chicken with Grapes

It is just a week and a half away. The big question has always been, "What shall I cook for Christmas?", but what really excites me is the activity of pouring through a ton of recipe books.

It used to be a challenge cooking up a meal for a group of people. I remember the panic, the mad rush and hair-pulling antics. I have my share of festive cooking disasters which I love to reminisce about, like the time I turned up at a pot-bless gathering with deep fried potato balls which had flattened because it was hollow inside. I could have sworn I filled it to the brim!

These days I'm a cool cucumber. I don't know if it's the age or I've just mastered the shortcuts.

One of my favourite Christmas dish is Roast Chicken with Grapes. It's a favourite because I get asked for it every year. THAT, surely is solid proof, of its deliciousness.

Roast chicken with grapes and sweet potatoes

I found the recipe a decade ago in a cooking magazine. There's a whole lot preparation that goes into it but I have adapted it to a more relaxed style of cooking and simplified the recipe...I'll even go as far as to say that I've "over-simplified" it.

For THE Christmas dinner, I usually stuff a whole chicken with grapes and line the sides with carrots and potatoes.

Here, I've used just a few pieces of chicken parts because this is a meal meant for two and I added sweet potatoes because I felt like it.

The recipe, roughly : Mix chicken, seedless grapes, sweet potatoes and onions with a little salt, pepper and softened butter. Sprinkle some dried rosemary over it. Spread on baking tray and bake for about an hour at 180c. I wanted some greens so I added broccoli onto the same tray in the last ten minutes of baking time.

Easy, right?
Broccoli

Dec 12, 2012

0 Fringe Stages - 9th Penang Island Jazz Festival

A week has passed since the 9th Penang Island Jazz Festival (PIJF) concert but the immense impression it left on me has yet to subside. I came home with an adrenalin rush that no one could understand, gushing about all the amazing local talents I saw. I even promised myself that I would attend next year's festival...to the "uhuh" looks on my friends' faces.

I was there for six days just to catch the entirety of the event, including the sideshows. How I landed here is thanks to my cousin Gen, who has a love affair with music. I never expected it to be this good. You're hearing this from someone who doesn't have a deep appreciation for music. Jazz, local acts.. ? Huh?

Don't misunderstand me, I do love music but I've never taken it deeper than the more common or famous international acts like Madonna or what's always on our radio. And if anyone were to ask me about the musical instruments involved, I would have most likely responded with something as unintelligent as, "I think three of them were playing some sort of guitar and two were on drums".

The Fringe Stages were organised by Creative Malaysia, an initiative introduced last year, to promote Malaysian music. These events were organised in a more laid back environment and is free for the public to attend. It was here that I fell in love with Froya (www.facebook.com/Froya.music) and Zalila Lee (www.facebook.com/pages/Zalila-Lee/20738792796).

The PIJF flyer with Zalila Lee performing in the background

I watched them perform three days in a row, in three different locations. It started with the Sundown event at the Tropical Spice Garden. What can I say, I'm an overnight fan.

Froya's music puts the H-A-P-P-Y in me. It's very catchy fare with small instrumental twists that makes her music fresh and unique. I like the originality of her song lyrics. I was hunting for her album during the festival only to be disappointed that it hasn't been released.

Zalila, on the other hand, has a more bluesy style and sings mostly accompanied with just the sound of her guitar although she's also an accomplished drummer. My favourite song from Zalila is "Paper Skin"..at least that's what I think the song is called. Google results drew a sad blank. I'm working my grey cells to recall the title.

There were many brilliant performers in the Fringe Stages, but these are the two whom I would put my money down for a CD. For the rest, I would catch them "live" because that's where their strength really lies.

I'll end with some photos to give you an idea what it's all about and also short video clips of the songs that impressed me, all taken at the Fringe event in Hard Rock Hotel, Penang:

Zalila Lee strumming her guitar



Froya aka Michelle Lee



Rocker Chick performing alongside Froya. She's madly passionate.

Dec 9, 2012

2 Oh, my God..a Facebook status opportunity!

Gen and I were in queue to check our luggage in at Air Asia's baggage drop off counter when something caught our eye in the next line.

"Gen, are you seeing what I'm seeing?"

"Whoaa..you have to take pictures! Can you zoom in?"

"It's too small. My camera's not that canggih-lah." - canggih, meaning "advanced".

We were a little disappointed with the photo results and that spurred us to gear up for a better shot. So once we got to the front and checked our luggage in, we took a couple of huge strides to the other line, I flipped my camera out and snapped a photo. Flash!

Christ was caught by surprise. He looked just about to get up from the counter but we had already walked away like nothing had happened, triumphantly reviewing the snapshot on camera. I reckon he must be shaking his head and going,"These aunties arh!"

Sorry, Christ. This photo's just too good not to be on Facebook.

Alleluia!

Dec 7, 2012

4 A Plant Casualty..

May you rest in peace, old girl...

I just got back from a week-long holiday to find one of my plants in a devastating state of shriveled mess.

"Miss Plant? Miss Plant?... Speak to me!"

I ran for water of course, to try resuscitating it. It was all a bit dramatic with my heart skipping a beat in between and g-r-e-a-t concern plastered across my face.

Four long days later, with no signs of life, I guess it's time to move on.

It is not that my home is void of people. It's just that we each have our own opinion of what's "important".

I cannot imagine having to babysit a friend's collection of football paraphernalia either so I guess it would too much for me to assume anyone would want to babysit my plants...hmmph!
 

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