31 December 2013

Happy New Year 2014

Another year passes by and as we usher and welcome the New Year, it is time again for reflections and resolutions.   

What had happened to all my resolutions? No prizes for correct answers here. It is so easy to just gloss over them and like the sand in the hour glass let them slip through your hands.

For me, it would not be a New Year without making resolutions. Offhand I know what they are and will be, with a few additional ones to help me steer onto the right path. (ha! ha! ha!). Why bother making them when no effort is made to fulfill them? One new resolution would be a quarterly review of things or challenges that I should be undertaking.

Fear not, there’s always a new year round the corner for a repeat of those resolutions.

It is not only that, ‘Forget Not.’ …..what you resolve to do!

Happy New Year!

27 November 2013

Express Achar (Vegetables Pickle)

Having gained its share of fans, I thought that I had better post my Express Achar recipe on my blog. This is especially for you Eva, it is not that difficult to get the spices grounded.

I would caution against over drying or over heating the vegetables in your pan, you would surely not want to cook it, otherwise the vegetables will wilt and not be crunchy. Under frying it will give you a more watery Achar. What I actually do, is to lightly pan dried (meaning, I fry it over very low fire), the moment I think the vegetables are getting a bit too hot, I would turn off the gas, let them cool a little and then heat them up again. Keep stirring too for evenness. Fry the different vegetables in different batches, according to how quick cooking they are. The only vegetables that you can pan-fry together are cucumber, fresh chilies (if you are using) and the hard stalks of the cabbage.

You could adjust the proportion of the vegetables used, using more of those vegetables you like and less or even omit those that you are not fond of.

This is a fool-proofed dish. You may have some wilted vegetables, i.e. if you pan-fried them too long, or too sour if you used too much vinegar or too sweet or too salty or not enough sugar, but in spite of all these little misadventures you would still have a great Achar (Vegetables Pickle) that is superior to any other pickle. It is not too spicy(hot) so you could eat plenty of it. Happy cooking Eva!

Ingredients :
Spices to be grounded :

Vegetables :
6 - 8 dried chillies

1 pkt peanut candy  (220 gm pkt)   
2 buah keras

1 large local cucumber or
1 ½ medium sized cucumber
2 stalk lemon grass/serai

200 gm long beans
15 onions

1 carrot
6 pips garlic

3-4 leaves cabbage
1 piece fresh kunyit (1 ½ inch)

1 454 gm tin canned pineapple
1 tsp shrimp paste/belachan (optional)

3-4 tabsp  apple vinegar(diluted with 2 tabsp water)

Salt and sugar (3-5 tabsp) to taste

 Method :

  1. Pound the peanut candy (you can put it in a cloth bag and use a small hammer) coarsely, or use an electric chopper.
  2. Cut cucumber, carrots, long beans into lengths of about 2 cm x  ½ cm  
  3. Cut cabbage into square/rectangular pieces.
  4. Either dry the vegetables in the sun, oven or lightly pan dried.
  5. Grind the spices together.
  6. Fry the spices in oil till fragrant. (about ¾ cup)
  7. When fragrant, add 2 tabsp vinegar mixture.
  8. Add carrots, fry for 1 minute, and then add the long beans.
  9. As you add the vegetables, add some salt and sugar, in proportion to the vegetables that has been added.
  10. Add in the cucumber and cabbage, followed by more vinegar, salt and sugar to taste.
  11. Lastly add in the cubed, canned pineapple.
  12. Add in most of the grounded peanut candy, leaving some for garnishing.
  Some notes :
  1. Some of you may prefer to have more grounded peanut candy for garnishing.
  2. You could use some of the canned pineapple juice. Adjust seasoning accordingly.
  3. I usually do not use the full tin of the canned pineapple, (leave some), but it’s up to your preference too.
  4. You can add fresh chillies too (cut into half lengthwise).
  5. Do not add water, unless your vegetables are very dry.
  6. For those of you, who prefer a more sour flavour, you could add another tabsp. of vinegar, especially if you can ‘stomach’ it. However, please note that you may need to add in more sugar to balance up the vinegar, and besides aren't we trying to cut down our sugar? Normally I do not finish using the vinegar, it is better to prepare more of the diluted vinegar, for a better and thorough spread among the vegetables.
  7. Test some vegetables or the gravy for taste. (Is it sweet enough? Or do you need more salt or vinegar.)
  8. You could add more peanut candy too, or you could use grounded peanuts and sesame seeds. If you do that, please adjust the amount of sugar used.

08 November 2013

Budget 2014_??????

Most Malaysians were more anxious about our most recent Budget 2014 than budgets of previous years; especially with Fitch downgrading our sovereign credit outlook, similarly so was yours truly. Below, some that caught my attention.

1. GST
The Goods and Service Tax(GST) will be implemented on 1st April 2013 at 6%. A consumption tax, it will be zero rated for basic food, domestic water, 200 units of electricity, transport services, residential properties, tolls; exemptions will be for education, healthcare and financial services.

Our fiscal deficit and debts have been too high and with the GST implementation, the government's coffers will improve. Let us hope that the additional tax collected willl be put to good use (improving the economy, fighting crimes and corruption, better education, health care and transportation) instead of some illegitimate or some undeserving pockets. Being a broad base tax, GST will hit all consumers. So how will the poor cope?

Assuming that most consumption from the lower income, for example rice, meat and other essential items are zero rated some will still fall under the GST net. Assuming that only RM400 of their monthly expenditure is subjected to the 6% GST, that works out to be RM288 per year, the one-off cash assistance would cover that nicely. But what if it is RM800, the monthly GST that they will be paying would be RM48 or RM576 per year. Depending on the list of goods zero rated and those exempted, (details of which would be disseminated) it could be much higher. Hopefully, the list of zero-rated goods and services will be long, as even exemptions may have some tax depending on their inputs.

How badly GST will affect the poor waits to be seen, hopefully there will be measures to relieve the poor and the struggling middle class too.

2. Sugar Subsidy
Sugar subsidy has been removed and the price per kg. now stands at  RM2.84, up by 34 cents. It is a healthy move, too many of us are taking too much sugar. There should not be any price increase in our drinks or food.

A tablespoon of sugar is approximately 12 -13 gms., Even if assuming it is 14 grams to 1 tabsp, a kilogram of sugar would give you about 70 tablespoons of sugar, each tabsp of sugar will cost at the most 0.5 (half) cent extra with the subsidy removal of 34 cents. On the same note, if you do not want any sugar in your drinks, you become healthier and you save +/- 4 cents. But I am sure you would not ask the poor vendor to reimburse you 5 cents for your sugarless drinks.

3. Real Property Gains Tax(RPGT)
RPGT has been increased to 30% for properties disposed within 3 years, 20% for the 4th year, 15% for the 5th year, and tax free after 5 years for Malaysians(individuals). Foreigners are subjected to 30% RPGT for disposal within 5 years, thereafter it will be at 5%. Companies too will have to pay 5% from the 6th year. Someone I know was asking why is it 30% and not 50%? Why not when properties are have risen so much that most of us are finding it difficult to own one. Hooray! for the prohibition for Developers Interest Bearing Scheme. Hooray! too for measures to boost affordable housing. I think it is a bit too little and a little too late for some of us.

4. Foreign Ownership of Properties
The minimum price of properties that can be purchased by foreigners has been raised from RM500,000 to RM1 million. Is it high enough? Not for some locations.

5. Broadband Phase 2
RM3.4bil allocated for high speed broadband. That is just great, isn't it, hope we do not have to wait too long for the roll out. How many of us have been experiencing broadband speeds that literally makes us so very mad!

6. For the Middle Income Earners
A special Tax Relief of RM2000 for tax payers earning up to RM8000 per month for year 2013. The  tax rates for various income tax brackets and maximum chargeable threshold has been amended, but the date of implementation is unclear.


:-) Well, go shopping early for those items that will be subjected to GST before implementation date, those big item purchases and that you cannot do without or have been thinking of buying. Buy less of those that you can do with less if you have to pay for GST after 1April 2014. My guess is that consumption for Christmas and the coming Chinese New Year will be higher. Maybe I should upgrade my hand phone now too. 

Wonder how GST will affect home renovations? That would fall under residential properties, so material and labour inputs are tax free? What about renovations for non-residential properties? The small contractor will have more clerical work segregating their accounting. 

10 October 2013

Delicious Popiah (fresh vegetables spring rolls)

The Popiah(fresh vegetables spring rolls) is different from the fried spring rolls. The Popiah that I have been eating for decades is evolving, because the cook gets older and lazier. However, it is still as delicious as ever.

When we were children, the Popiah my mother and grandmothers cooked would have crab meat, belly pork and yellow tau kwa(soya bean cakes).

Over the years, we now have a healthier version, replacing the belly pork with chicken breast meat, fresh crab meat has been omitted because of the hard work, (unless you get the frozen crab meat) and the frying of taukwa simplified!! I now like the flavour of the leeks and have added them into my Popiah.

 For 3 -6 pax 
 Ingredients :
2 kg or 3 large sengkuang (yam bean)
2 carrots
300 gm french beans, thinly sliced
300 gm leeks, thinly sliced
8 pieces small squares of firm tau kwa (soya bean cakes)
1 big piece of chicken breast meat finely, shredded and seasoned with salt, pepper and some light soya sauce

300- 400 gram large prawns, peeled and minced, and seasoned with salt, pepper and some light soya sauce.

Fried Shallots : 20 – 30 shallots thinly sliced, deep fried and stored in an air tight jar  

Coriander (cilantro) leaves, for garnishing and flavoring  

Lettuce leaves (optional)                           

2 pkts of Popiah skin (500 gm each), these can be bought from Tesco Hypermarket or if you could get some freshly made, that would be great.

Chillie Paste : Grind together, 8-10 fresh chillies, 10-12 pips of garlic and chillie padi (bird eye chillie) Season with some salt and sugar.

Sweet paste, (these can be bought from provision shops from Chinatown
Cooking oil and 1 head of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

 Method : 
  1. Deep fry the shallots (these can be prepared earlier).
  2. Prepare the chillie paste.
  3. Thinly shred the tau kwa(soya bean cakes) and fry in oil till dry and fragrant.(season with salt to taste)
  1. Use a shredder or food processor to shred the sengkuang(yam bean) and carrots.
  2. Fry the minced garlic in oil till fragrant, add in the chicken meat shreds
  3. Add in the minced prawns. Fry till fragrant.
  4. Add in the sengkuang (yam bean) and carrots. Try to keep dry and not to add water.
  5. Fry till vegetables are soft and done, then add in the greens. (French beans and Chinese leeks), fry till done.
  6. Finally add in the fried taukwa (soya bean cakes), allow it to cook thoroughly.
  7. Season to taste. The dish should not be too wet, (the popiah skin will break up) especially after the addition of the fried taukwa.
  Skin Preparation before Serving :
  1. After defrosting,(those bought from Tesco) peel the Popiah skin, (they usually stick to one another) to overlap. Just peel those you are going to use.
  2. Steam over gently boiling water on a plate larger than the skin for 5-8 minutes.(even those bought from the market, unless it is freshly made), (Not too long, otherwise they stick together).
If steaming a big stack of the Popiah skin, please do flip over a few times for even distribution of steam over the skin. Alternatively, you could just steam only a few at a time.

To Serve :
  1. Place Poh Piah skin on a clean plate.
  2. Spread a row each of the chillie paste and sweet sauce paste on the poh piah skin.

  3. If using, spread a small piece of lettuce on the skin.
  4. Scoop 3-4 tabsp. of the cooked Popiah vegetables, arrange in a row on the center of the skin.
  5. Garnish with fried shallots and coriander (cilantro) leaves.
  6. Flip one side of the skin over the vegetables, compact and roll it in a little, bend the ends, and finish the rolling.
  7. Now, you get to enjoy the delicious Popiah as you bite into it. Yummy!
  8. Alternatively, cut the Popiah into 4 -5 pieces and serve.
  1. If you are able to get Popiah skin from the market, which usually comes in packs of 300 gram, you will need 3 packs.
  2. The Popiah vegetables can be kept in the fridge, heated up and will then be ready to be served again. If you cook a lot, you may want to spread out your Popiah skin purchases especially since those popiah skins go stale very easily.
  3. Any left over skin are best sealed in a plastic bag. Cover the plastic bag with a damp cloth to prevent drying up. Store in coolest part of your fridge.
  4. I personally find frying the tau kwa (soya bean cakes) tedious, as it is difficult to source for the hard ones, they are normally too soft to fry well from shreds. I now fry the whole pieces, then shred them and re-fry till as dry as you possibly can.

Most of the preparation can be done in advance, so fret not.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I do. :-D

09 September 2013

Life After the Rains

I could not help noticing that my garden was brimming with life after the recent bout of rain. It has been raining every day for the past few days, heavier sometimes and a light drizzle at others, or just looming heavy clouds waiting for the next cue to fall.

The sun filtering through gaps in the leaves
This morning, the sun breaks through the clouds. There was an inevitable hive of activity. The plants seemed more alive; insects and plants both were busy basking in the morning sunlight, maybe preparing for yet another onslaught of rain.

A black mushroom
'siblings in a row'
Beautiful, isn't it? Flowers of our common chives.

Busy web weaving?
Very busy having a meeting? Or consolidating resources?
Black ants, busy building a new nest
They do complement one another beautifully.

The moist ground is our favorite place for our home.

07 August 2013

Caveat Emptor, "Let the Buyer Beware"

I am not convinced it was a human error neither am I convinced it is a system error. What is it then? The blanks .......are for you to fill after going through the scenarios that developed and prompted me to such a unpleasant conclusion.

We went to do our usual supermarket shopping and picked up a styrofoam tray of middle eastern dates covered in cling film. It has a price label indicating RM14.98 for a kilogram, packing date and the Price for that particular tray of 500 gms of the dates at RM7.49. Simple enough. But it was not to be. After paying the cashier for our purchases that day, I browsed through the receipt and was surprised to find a RM14.98 item. I double checked, was convinced there was an error, requested the cashier to re
check the item. The conclusion was that the Fruit Dates were scanned and picked up by the scanner/PointOfSales system at RM14.98. The cashier approached her supervisor and explained to me that their system had picked up the item as a kilogram pack. I was duly reimbursed the amount overcharged.

The explanation given to me seemed ridiculous? If their system at some point was able to print out the price label, indicating the price/kg and the price for that particular pack, then I believe at some other point in time the correct pricing has been altered with. Was it deliberate? Was it a system error?  

Luckily, I did not buy much on that day and was easily drawn to the incorrect amount charged. Had there been more items, or more items of similar value, there could be an oversight.

I do hope it is a case of negligence by the supermarket, and not being diligent in staff training and supervision. However, I do have my doubts that it is as simple as that. Similar incidents have happened before and it is difficult to brush it off as negligence.

I hope that other shoppers experiencing similar incidents would be able to get back their losses and the managements of Supermarkets will do something to prevent that occurrences. (Not only this one).
Imagine, if there are shoppers, (how many?) unaware of such discrepancies and the supermarkets getting away with it, not for one item, as such incidents are not uncommon, but for.......... items.

Is it then a case of an unscrupulous trader taking advantage of naive consumers? The consumer could be enticed to buy thinking it is a good bargain as the Fruit Dates are of good quality. A justification for the vendor could be that those dates should have priced at twice the price per kilogram!