Thursday, 7 February 2013

Good to be back

Yeehaaa!!!!! I’m back in Malaysia.

OK! I've been back 2 weeks now. Feels great to be back. There’s so many things to do and I've more or less spent the last two weeks running all around KL, PJ and other parts of the Klang Valley running errands and catching up with friends.

After much deliberation with my wife, we've decided to postpone our return trip to the Netherlands. Instead of returning on the 24th of February, we've delayed it for another 2 weeks and decided that we will return on the 9th of March (It wasn't really our choice as we couldn't get earlier tickets back). So, there will be a lot more eating to do.

In keeping with the theme of this blog, I've decided to write about my nasi lemak experiences during this trip first. I’ll write about some of the other food another time (and there will be lots of it).

Each nasi lemak portion is enough for a complete meal
The first nasi lemak I had was one of my all-time favorites. It’s one of those that are wrapped in banana leaves, consisting of your basic nasi lemak with the sambal, the dried anchovies, eggs and cucumber. One wrapped nasi lemak is enough for one meal although on almost every occasion, I’ll have 2 portions for breakfast (The only times I don’t have 2 portions is when I have 3).

This nasi lemak has been one of my favorites since the year 2000. It is sold by this lovely kakak (sister) by the roadside in Bandar Seri Damansara, Kuala Lumpur. She sells nasi lemak and fried mee hoon (which she makes herself) and also some malay kueh such as karipap, kuih ketayap, kuih keria and seri muka. Her stall is usually open by around 7.00 am as she tries to catch the early crowd heading out to work.

My wife buying the nasi lemak from the kakak
On a weekday, things are normally quite slow and she doesn’t make and sell a lot of nasi lemak. You can still get nasi lemak from her around 10.00 am on a weekday. But on a weekend, you have to be early if you want a taste of her nasi lemak. In fact you’ll be lucky to get any by 9.00 am.

I love this kakak’s nasi lemak because of her sambal. The sambal is superb. It’s just a plain sambal without any anchovies in it, but the taste is wonderful. It’s a bit on the hot side but it is beautifully balanced with sweetness. Her rice is a bit inconsistent, sometimes a bit too mushy and sometimes perfectly cooked. But the deliciousness of her sambal makes up for any imperfections in her rice.

For anyone who would like to give this kakak’s nasi lemak a try, her stall is located at Persiaran Margosa in Bandar Seri Damansara, Kuala Lumpur. It’s not too difficult to find as her stall is the only one along that road. 

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Home is where your heart is

I've always thought that living abroad would be no big deal. Home would he wherever you decide is home. Your surroundings would have no impact whatsoever on how you live your life. Nothing changes. You go to work, you go home, have dinner, go to bed and wake up the next morning doing the same thing. From time to time, you socialize or you travel or do whatever else takes your fancy. The environment you live in doesn't change your lifestyle.

So then why is it that just when you're about to board the plane heading home, you develop anxiety. You start feeling jittery and start to wonder about all the things that you used to do back home and the things that you would do on this trip back. You start to remind yourself of all the friends that you would like to catch up with and all the great food that you've been missing since your last trip back.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy living in The Hague. The pace is slower compared to Kuala Lumpur. Getting around is easy, you can easily take your bike out and go for a long ride without having to worry about lorry drivers who cant see you or even acknowledge that you have as much right as they do in using the tarmac. You dont have to worry about being late anywhere as you don't have to crawl through bumper to bumper traffic.

Over the last couple of years, I've found that I enjoy my life in the Netherlands. The lifestyle there gives me more time to pursue my other interests and develop some new ones. So why is it that when the plane lands and the cabin crew is making their final announcement before you disembark the plane, you get this feeling of pure contentment when they say "To the Malaysian citizens, welcome home". When you hear that, it sounds so right.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Not a good start, but not a bad ending….

It started off as one of those days. You know the kind of day where you wake up and feel like you've just been run over by a steam roller. That was how my Saturday started. I woke up quite early, around 7.00 and the moment I sat up I felt like I had been crushed by a huge rolling pin. All my muscles were aching and crying out to me to just lie down again.

I don’t know how to describe how I felt in English (I guess lethargy would be a close enough description) but in Malay I would call it as “lemau” (If I was referring to food, I think “lemau” would translate as “stale”). After a brief tinkle, I decided that my running shoes could wait another day and my rowing machine wasn't going to go anywhere, I went back to bed.

Waking up again at 10.00 was slightly better. I could no longer hear screaming coming from my muscles, just some faint whispering  For a brief second, I contemplated either putting on my running shoes and head out in 0 degrees temperature or spend 15 minutes breathing heavily on my rowing machine. Instead I did neither.
After another brief tinkle, my wife informed me that Siti had cooked nasi lemak that morning and had invited us over. All of a sudden, all my aches vanished. The thought of having nasi lemak for brunch sounded like a brilliant idea (I honestly didn't know that the invitation was actually for breakfast).

The nasi lemak was excellent. The hotness of the sambal was more prominent compared to mine but the sweetness and the sourness helped to temper it down a bit. The rice was nicely cooked and I noticed that there were chunks of rice from the bottom of the pot in the rice bowl (in Malay we call this the “kerak”). I love these chunks of rice from the bottom of the pot. I didn't notice them that much in my first serving. I only realized they were in the rice bowl about half way through my second serving, so naturally, I just had to have a third helping.

The sambal, eggs, cucumber and fried anchovies making up the whole nasi lemak combination.
I would normally stop there. Three servings of nasi lemak is a lot to have in one sitting (although I think my record was 5), but I spent yesterday afternoon experimenting with this recipe for chocolate mousse on a baked cornflakes crust. I couldn't find a recipe for chocolate mousse on a baked crust so I had to combine 2 different recipes. And I was very eager to taste it. It was wonderful. The crust was a bit crunchier than I expected making it very difficult to cut, but the mousse was perfect and the whole combination of mousse and crust worked very well. Next time I will have to find a way to reduce the crunchiness of the crust.

The Chocolate Mousse on Baked Cornflakes Crust
(You need to zoom in to see the crust)
After the start I had this morning, I didn't really think that I’d feel much better in the afternoon. When I start any day feeling “lemau”, it usually ends the same way. Not much that happens during the day that would improve my overall outlook for the day, but today, was different. Thanks to the nasi lemak from Siti  

Friday, 4 January 2013

Goodbye 2012!!! Welcome 2013!!!

Reflecting on the year gone by.

This is tough. It’s the eve of the New Year and I want to write something about it. I've been staring at this blank document for 30 minutes now and have typed and deleted at least 6 paragraphs. I have walked back and forth to the toilet 3 times (it’s about the only place I can smoke in the house and also there’s something about a toilet seat which makes it a great place for contemplation). And so far, I just can’t seem to put my thoughts in a coherent form to write them down. But I’m going to try anyway.

Around about this time of the year, I always find myself contemplating the events over the past 12 months, reflecting on the good times and bad times, trying to decide if the year that is about to leave, was a good year or a bad one. The conclusion that I have come up with is that it was a wonderful 2012.

I have to say that I wasn't really expecting much from 2012. I had no job and spent most of my time at home. My biggest worry was that I would get bored and depressed since I didn't have much to occupy my time with. I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2011 and my cholesterol level was border line. So on top of not having much to do, I had health issues to contend with.

But during the year, things started to pick up. My professional life remained in the gutter, but I was expecting that. I figured as long as I stayed in the Netherlands, it would be very difficult for me to find a job, so I wasn't expecting much improvement there. But everything else started to fall in place.

I started to become active again towards the end of 2011. I started going to the gym, played badminton, and I went running and cycling on a regular basis. All this continued throughout 2012 (except for the last month or so as I was advised to stop playing sports for a while because of a hip problem). These activities not only improved my fitness levels, but they also helped increase my overall health. My blood sugar level is still high but it has been constantly reducing throughout the year. My cholesterol level is still border line, but I see light at the end of the tunnel.

Besides that, I've also managed to travel a bit this year. I went back to Malaysia 3 times, and spent some time in Norway, Italy, Portugal and the UK.

Western Norway was breathtaking. We spent a couple of days hiking around Maloy and the hills surrounding it. And then we spent another day driving into the mountains, looking at the wondrous nature of glaziers and also taking in the beautiful scenery of the fjords.

In Italy, we enjoyed the scenery around San Gimignano and the Tuscan countryside. We also learned a bit about the history of Lucca and Sienna but one of the highlights of the trip and the whole year was driving a Ferrari California around the countryside surrounding Maranello in Italy.

Unlike the other places, Portugal was a relaxing holiday. We stayed in the beautiful town of Cascais, 30 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon and just soaked up the sun at the hotel swimming pool.

In the UK we went to catch a live game at Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC (my favorite football club). We also spent a couple of days just driving around the countryside in Oxfordshire and Wiltshire, taking in the beautiful scenery and enjoying the offerings of the small quaint towns such as Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden and Bradford-upon-Avon, along the way.

But if I have to say, the happiest moment of 2012 to me, would be looking at the joy in my wife’s eyes when I gave her the birthday present I got her.

(That first part was written on New Year’s Eve. The next part was written a few days after the New Year)

I have never made a New Year’s Resolution. Every year, on the eve of the New Year, I reflect on the events of the previous year, without making any resolutions for the New Year. I’ve always believed that whatever resolution that I make at the eve of a New Year will be forgotten within a couple of weeks, a month at the most. So I've never made any.

But this year, I've decided to make a New Year’s Resolution. I guess this change in heart has been brought about because I feel like there is so much more that I can achieve when I put my mind to it. So here are my New Year’s Eve Resolutions:

  1. I’d like to learn some new things.
    1. I bought an acoustic guitar a couple of years ago and took some lessons. That was before I moved to the Netherlands. When I moved here, I stopped completely. Last year, I started to take guitar lessons online and I think I am making some progress. So my first resolution is to learn how to play the guitar properly.
    2. Apart from that, I’d like to learn how to ski. It won’t really be a useful thing to know back in Malaysia but I would like to go on a skiing holiday and I would like to know how to ski before I go on that holiday.
    3. I would also like to learn how to make coffee. I've been looking at learning this for a year or so. I have been looking at a course in London and hopefully this year I’ll be able to take that course.
    4. I would also like to learn other things but I haven’t really decided on anything else yet. More on this later.
  2. I’d like to experiment more with my cooking. I have my normal repertoire which I think I've more or less perfected according to my tastes. But nowadays I feel like I should expand my horizons and try different things as well. I've already started with a birthday dinner for my lovely wife and it turned out quite well. The starter was Mussels cooked in tomatoes, while the main meal was a Lemon Baked Turkey, Roast Pumpkin and Parsnip, a simple salad and for dessert, I served a Banoffee Pie.
  3. I also want to increase my fitness levels. I want to keep on playing squash, badminton and tennis. I also want to start cycling and running again. I've got a rowing machine now and that will help with my fitness levels.
The full spread
Top (right to left): Roasted Grated Pumpkin and Parsnip, Salad with Pomegrenate
Bottom (right to left): Mussels in Tomatoes and Banoffe Pie

That’s all my New Year’s Resolutions. I might decide to add to that list later on in the year but then they won’t be New Year’s Resolutions any more. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The nasi lemak brunch....

It’s that time of the year again. Its Christmas time and I get to play dress up and attend my wife’s departmental Christmas party. Since I don’t work, I spend most of my time in jeans and t-shirts (and thermals and sweaters in the winter), so I don’t get the chance to dress up very often. Over the weekend, we went to the Malaysian Association of the Netherlands Annual Gala Dinner and we decided to dress up for that. This is us before the event:

Before the Gala Dinner... we looked goooood
Besides that, I’m stuck for ideas. I've spent the whole morning just hanging out at my favorite watering hole, the Coffee Company at Korteporten in Den Haag, and followed that up with walking around aimlessly for another hour or so. Then I came home and spent the last 2 hours reading comments on articles posted on a website dedicated to Liverpool Football Club (I read the articles in 15 minutes). Now I’m just waiting for the time to get ready and head off the Louwman Museum for the Christmas party.

Since I’m not doing anything else, I thought I might as well write about the events over the past weekend, particularly Sunday when we had our nasi lemak brunch. As I mentioned in the last post, I left the invitation open, anyone who wanted to attend would just have to read the post and let me know that they were coming. You’d think with that type of invitation, I’d probably have to cook for 100 people. But not here in Den Haag, I had a guest list of 5 and a half and even then, at the last minute, someone couldn't make it.

So I was left with Fazrin, Merlyna, Siti and Shaukatt being the 4 and little Khaleef making up the half. Brunch was scheduled to start at 11.00 and at 8.30 that morning, my wife got a message from Siti telling us that she was already hungry and couldn't wait to come over. I hadn't even started cooking yet.

The guests. From top to bottom: Fazrin & Merlyna, Siti  & Shaukatt, and Khaleef
 It usually takes me about an hour to cook nasi lemak, but this time I had to allocate a bit more time because I was planning to serve fried chicken with the nasi lemak. I started cooking at 9.30 and by 10.30 I was done with the nasi lemak. At 11.00, Siti, Shaukatt and Khaleef arrived.  I was only half way through cooking the chicken so I could feel the daggers coming from Siti as she was probably expecting to eat immediately upon arrival.

In a way, I was feeling a bit under pressure. This would be the first time I was going to cook nasi lemak for friends since I started writing this blog. I knew expectations were going to be high. As we sat down to eat, I grew more anxious and nervous. What if it turned out to be a disaster?

After my first bite, my fears quickly disappeared. It was exactly how I liked my nasi lemak. The rice was perfectly cooked, not too creamy or heavy and the sambal had the right balance of hot, sweet, sour and salty. Everything tasted right. I got confirmation of that when Siti asked if she could take some of the sambal home if we had extra.

The fried chicken on the left and the sambal on the right
But what really brought a smile to my face was that we almost finished the rice. As a general rule, for the 2 of us, I normally cook about 1 cup of rice. If I’m feeling really hungry, about a cup and a quarter and even then we’re usually stuffed by the time we finish it. If I base my calculation on that rule, 4 cups of rice should have been enough for all of us. I added one extra cup just in case anyone was extra hungry. But then, when I poured the rice into the cooker, there wasn't much left in the bag, so I poured the whole thing in. In total, I cooked about 6 and a half cups. THAT WAS A LOT!!!!

Anyway, all in all, it was a success. I spent the rest of the day with Fazrin and Shaukatt watching football while my wife, Siti and Merlyna went shopping. They left Khaleef with us but being the nice boy that he is, he didn't create too much of a fuss and we managed to enjoy the games on the telly.  

Monday, 3 December 2012

Plans for the weekend...

It started snowing about an hour ago. That’s the first time snow has been sighted this year in Den Haag. For me, it’s not truly winter, until you see snowflakes drifting down past your windows. That’s the real sign of winter and a warning that the temperatures are going to drop further.

I have this love hate relationship with winter. I hate winter because every day is the same as the day before, it’s wet, windy and overall, very dreary. But I also love winter because it gives me the opportunity to put on my body hugging thermals and I DO look good in body hugging thermals. YES, I am that vain and I’m sure most of my friends will be able to testify to that fact (sometimes I can’t walk by a mirror without taking a peak at how good I look). It’s a shame that I always have to cover up the tight fitting thermals with a t-shirt or a sweater on top.

Anyway, since the weather is not very encouraging, I’m more or less stuck in the house for now. Rather than waste my time this morning watching the idiot box (I can do that later today), I've decided to make plans for the weekend. I've got a couple of friends staying over this weekend. They will be in Den Haag for the Malaysian Association of the Netherlands Annual Gala Dinner which will be held on the evening of Saturday, 8th December 2012.

I have a lunch invitation on Saturday at a fellow Malaysian’s house somewhere in Den Haag (I haven’t got his address yet). In the afternoon, Fazrin Edzuan Jamaluddin and Merlyna Aillen Kraal will be arriving from Antwerp, Belgium, and we’ll all be attending the Gala Dinner that evening. Fazrin and Merlyna will be spending the night at our place. So my Saturday is fairly packed.

Sunday morning is usually tennis time. I joined this group of 6 Malaysians who play tennis on Sundays. So far, I've missed a few sessions because I was traveling and a couple of sessions had to be cancelled because we didn't have enough people as others were traveling too. For this Sunday, I’m not sure if tennis is on. Three of us will be attending the Gala Dinner, so we’re not entirely sure if we can get up early that Sunday morning to play tennis. And on top of that, another one of us will be traveling that weekend. So we might not have enough players. Then there’s always the weather which might put a dampener on our plans.

Rather than living with the uncertainty, I've decided to make my own plans this weekend. Since I have guests over this weekend, I have decided to make nasi lemak for brunch. It’s the perfect substitute. In this kind of weather, all you’d be doing is warming up, you won’t sweat much playing tennis. If you eat nasi lemak, and the sambal is hot enough, you will definitely break into a sweat. So in a way, it’s a better Sunday morning activity compared to tennis.

I already have 2 guests and I’m still contemplating on whether I should invite more.  I enjoy entertaining friends, but I do try to keep a limit on these kinds of invites. I like chatting and catching up with friends but I wouldn't enjoy the occasion if I have to shout at them from across the room. Taking this into account, I have decided that I should invite a few more people over for brunch. I think a limit of 8 or 10 people would be nice. I just need to figure out who I can invite. Maybe what I can do is just leave the invitation open. Anyone who reads this post is welcome as long as places are available. All they have to do is just inform my wife or me that they would like to come. First come, first serve.

Now that my plans for the weekend have been settled, all I have to do is figure out what to do for the rest of the day. Maybe this afternoon, if the clouds stop pouring stuff that will make me wet, I might just drop by the gym (I think there’s too many maybes there). 

P.s. I haven't exactly cleared these plans with my wife. So, these plans are still subject to change

Friday, 30 November 2012

UK Trip (Part 3)

Yeay!!! There is a part 3 to this story. I didn't really expect there to be one as my writing depends on my mood. I guess I am in the mood to write but I don’t really have anything else to write about (Hint to Ida Faiz back in Malaysia). Before I go on, I think I should prepare everyone who reads this blog (all 12 of you) that if you’re looking for more rambling on nasi lemak in this post, you will be terribly disappointed. I won’t even be mentioning nasi lemak (except for these 1 or 2 instances). This post is more about the rest of my trip which doesn't involve any nasi lemak at all.

Just to let you know, today is the first day where the temperatures here in Den Haag has dropped below zero. That’s what my wife’s phone seems to say. I’m not sure what my phone says. Sometimes it gives a different temperature reading compared to my wife’s even though we both use the same brand of phone, with the same OS and the same app to check the temperature. Maybe the weather pattern is a bit different at her office (which is a staggering 2 kilometers away) than it is here in the comforts of my house.

Oh Yes! Back to my story. UK Trip Part 3.

Photo taken 2 years ago
I think in my last post I mentioned that we spent the night at Highworth, which is a small market town just 30 minutes from Swindon. I decided I wanted to have a light breakfast (not sure what my wife wanted to have but I noticed it wasn't very heavy either) as we were planning to head to Bath. My main aim to get to the historic city of Bath was to go to Sally Lunn’s House, home of the famous Bath Bun, which is located in the city center. We arrived just after 9.30 and headed straight there.

A bit of a history lesson. Sally Lunn was a Heguenot refugee who came to Bath in 1640 escaping French persecution. She found employment with a baker located in Lilliput Alley and introduced the creamy yet light and delicate bun which has now become famously known as the Bath Bun. The original and very secret recipe to this bun is now passed along together with the deeds to the house. Over the years, a lot of imitations have cropped up including the “London Bath Buns” but none have been able to match the deliciously light original Bath Bun.

The bun comes with a variety of toppings, sweet and savory. I have never tried any of the savory toppings such as the Smoked Salmon Bun, Roast Beef, Creamy Brie (this actually sounds interesting) or Welsh Rarebit. I have always gone for a sweet topping. In fact, I've only ever had one type of topping which is the Cinnamon Butter topping. The bun is served with a topping of melted cinnamon butter and a slice of lemon on top. When you look at it on your plate you wonder how could something so simple be so famous, but the moment you put it in your mouth, you feel as if there’s a small explosion mixing the sweet and salty cinnamon butter together with the crunchy and creaminess of the toasted bun. You just can’t help but to close your eyes and enjoy the sensations.

The famous Sally Lunn's Cinnamon Butter Bun
The Coffee and Walnut topping (pic courtesy of my wife)
My wife had the Coffee and Walnut topping which was equally as good. I had a small bite from her plate and I wished I had some more. Maybe I should have just ordered another one.

Left: The after effects of the floods.
Right: Cross Guns
(again pics courtesy of my wife)
After walking around Bath for a couple of hours (shopping, what else) we headed out to Avoncliff, which is a small village just a few miles from Bradford-Upon-Avon. Cross Guns is a typical English pub located in Avoncliff right next to the river Avon. Going there was a bit of a gamble as the area had experienced some heavy rains and had flooded the day before. The effects of this flooding were very obvious when we got to Cross Guns. A couple of their tables were in the river waiting to be fished out by the proprietor when the water level recedes further.

The menu at Cross Guns is fairly simple. It consists mainly of traditional English food. I had a meal here once 18 years ago and I remember it till today. That time, the steak was particularly memorable, but this time, the starter and desserts did it for me. For starters, I had the Cross Guns Mushrooms which were sliced mushrooms cooked in a creamy garlic sauce (couldn't take a photo of this as my phone had run out of batteries). This dish was absolutely divine. For dessert, I had the Spotted Dick, one of my favorite traditional English desserts. The Spotted Dick is a steamed suet pudding which consists of dried fruits served with a creamy custard sauce (once again, no photos of the one served). At Cross Guns, the pudding just melts in your mouth together with the creamy custard making it a very appetizing dessert.

The Cross Guns Mushroom. Absolutely delicious.
(Battery ran out so once again pic is courtesy of my wife)

Not the one that I had but it does look good
After Cross Guns, I was stuffed. We hadn't really made any plans for the afternoon.We had booked a hotel in Warwick for the night but e didn't really feel like heading straight straight there since it was still only after 3.00 in the afternoon. So we headed to Bicester Village an outlet shopping center located in the heart of Oxfordshire, for, surprise surprise, some more shopping. We spent almost 3 hours there, walked the entire breadth of the outlet village twice, and eventually arrived at our hotel in Warwick at almost 9.00 in the evening. Overall, it was a day of indulgence. In fact, the whole trip was about indulging ourselves. If we could find a place for a nice relaxing massage, the whole trip could have been a perfect pampering holiday.

P.s: To find out more about Sally Lunn's House and Cross Guns, visit their website. Here are the links: