Tips for Eco-friendly Weddings

I’m a big greenie, thanks to being influenced positively by Don and Mylene.

I love conservation and yes, I am a member of MNS (that’s Malaysian Nature Society) whereby I am privy to interesting emails about conservation and ecology, particularly on the Yahoo Group that I am on. For a minimum of RM60 per year, I get updates from MNS about the state of our country in the form of gorgeous journals. (What is RM60 to you? It’s probably a night out in the city and probably not even enough to buy a pair of stilettoes but imagine, your RM60 for MNS can help protect those who cannot protect themselves.)

Sometime ago, MNS members started giving ideas about how to organise a green wedding successfully.

Did you know that weddings often leave huge carbon footprints? With everyone flying in from almost everywhere for the big day, and all the gifts and wedding decor, I should think it’s a mammoth print.

With permission from the thread originator, Ee Lynn, below are some tips to go green and have an eco-friendly wedding (hey, even birds are considered!).

Ee Lynn has these ideas:

1. Limit the size of your guest list. Instead of obligating the attendance of family members and friends from out of town, create a wedding website they can visit and leave comments in.

2. If you have many members of the family in a particular state, say, Penang, instead of having 12 of them drive down to KL for your wedding, host a delayed family-only wedding dinner there the next time you go to Penang.

3. Don’t have organic flowers or chocolates airflown from some distant country just so you could have a pesticide-free wedding. Always choose local.

4. Help plan your guests’ transport arrangements. Have them carpool by designating meeting areas and pick-up points.

Non-travel related tips:

1. Have lots of vegan dishes, not just for the vegetarians. Go for spring rolls, sauteed vegetables and salads. It’s sad that most of us celebrate a happy occasion by taking the lives of small animals :o( We should try to limit the number of animal lives taken.

2. Practice the 3Rs: Rent, don’t buy, your outfits, the chocolate fountain, and anything that you probably will not be using again.

3. Inform the caterers/restaurateurs that you don’t want a polystyrene arch or backdrop!

4. Get your guests involved. Ask if they could bring their own homegrown flowers to contribute to the arrangements. If you have a colour theme already, do let them know. Best to encourage potted plants e.g. orchids, otherwise they’d just go out to the nearest florist, buy a big bouquet and defeat the whole purpose.

5. Or have a blank scrapbook ready with stacks of photos. Each guest brings enough scrapbooking material to decorate a page, pen a personal note and choose a photo to go with his or her dedication. Let guests know in advance via text message, e-mail or direct communication, so they can compose their poems and congratulatory notes ahead of the wedding. Each contributor can be given a token of appreciation later.

6. Instead of throwing rice and confetti, use birdseed to make a big heart-shaped pattern on the ground in front of the church or wherever the daytime ceremony is to be held. Apparently rice can swell in birds’ stomachs and kill them, but birdseed can’t.

7. You could either choose to do without wedding favours, or go for things like potted 4-leaf clovers, magic message bean plants, organic spa soap and natural potpurri in cotton muslin pouches.

8. Communicate your message: Let others know what you believe in. There’s nothing worse than taking the noble step of opting for a green wedding and then having duhhh-case friends accuse you of being mean or stingy. Remind them of the theme throughout the wedding by playing songs with a green message (“Big Yellow Taxi”, anyone?), leaving environmental literature on the reception table for their perusal or displaying No Sharks Fin Soup campaign cards on the table.

What do you think? Many of my friends have already gotten married but it’s not only for weddings. Consider these tips too whenever you organise a party or a family celebration or birthday dinner.

Reduce your carbon footprint, whatever you do. Live wisely!

The Accidental Entrepreneur

Hello. I am back.

Yes. I have been missing. But for good reason. Sometimes we all need a break, even from our favourite rant machines a.k.a our blogs. Sometimes there’s just too much to say and sometimes there’s no reason to say anything. I’d rather have something important to share than gab on mindlessly.

Anyway, you must be intrigued by today’s post title.

I got around to thinking about this when Alexandra, a friend who writes for The Star’s Weekender, emailed me. We were in USM together about a decade ago and although we weren’t in the same course, we met up while taking elective classes. In her email, she said that I didn’t really look like the type to go into business. She figured I’d be a lecturer or something like that. The bookish sort, really.

I am what you would call an Accidental Entrepreneur.

I got around to pickling her question in my head. It is an interesting observation from a friend. You know how sometimes we go around having this Image in our heads of ourselves and suddenly someone comes along and tells you the Image of You that they have in their heads?

Yup. It makes for a great dissection. (Also another friend, Rona asked a very provocative question – should she still be an Employee or start a new chapter as an Entrepreneur?)

I started thinking. Now what if I weren’t running this business with Nic? What would I really be doing? Did I even imagine running a business? Hell no. I never even minored in Management while in university when all my coursemates did and here I am, running a business.

How things turn out…

I always believed (OK laugh if you want) that I’d be some head of the corporate communications department in some glitzy multinational corporation. Oh, perhaps jetting about every few weeks or so. Ordering subordinates about to write press releases, plan the next press conference etc. I’d be president or at least VP some day (you know I watch too many TV dramas about climbing the corporate ladder – actually I wanted to be a hotshot lawyer but that is totally another story for another post).

The thing is, I NEVER majored in PR either during my years in university.

Completely odd.

I did Journalism and minored in English. Then I had itchy fingers and went back to uni to get my Masters (in English!) just for fun. It was that time that I jumped from being gainfully employed (makan gaji) to being the mistress of my own universe (running a business with my husband).

The things people often told me not to do, I did anyway. Just to experience life on the wild side, so to say. I quit a well-paid job to go into the unknown. I had no experience except that kind that I racked up as an employee. I had no idea what I was going to do except use my skills in writing for the business. My Dad was secretly worried I’d be eating Maggi mee for the rest of my sad life. The other no-no is never run a business with family (that includes spouse) because it complicates relationships. Personal is personal and business is business right?

But the weirdest part is, I’m still around and I am truly enjoying this chapter of my life. I wouldn’t consider myself particularly enterprising in that gung-ho, in-your-face way.

There’s no need to be ruthless or unethical or even plain money-minded. Those myths about people in business belong to the last century! (That said, I can be quite persistent when it comes to money matters.)

It starts with me and myself.

Running a business is always crazy – you are responsible for what you do, or don’t do. I’ve had to pick up and read a whole lorry-load of marketing and business books (and I still read ’em).

I’ve had to learn psychology because when you deal with people, you need to understand what makes us all behave the way we do. I’ve had to change my mindset (don’t go after clients, attract them to you).

I’ve had to change the way I viewed life (my most precious resource now is Time and don’t let others waste your time unnecessarily).

I’ve had to re-learn what I know (customers aren’t always right and you must get rid of those who suck the lifeblood off you) and yes, remove those awful habits that were in the way of success (if you want to get ahead in business, you must factor time for play – really it’s all about working smart).

Much of the growing comes from the inside.

For the past few years, Nic and I find ourselves challenged in so many ways. And each time we hit a wall, we only only re-strategize and come out better, we’ve also created some of our own ways and systems to deal with future issues.

It’s your game, play it your way.

Whenever we face an issue, I always tell Nic, “Look, it’s our business. We can run it however we want. We can make our own rules if we don’t like the old ones.” You see, in business, we can run the business any way we want. There’s no hard and fast rule. If you know Nic, you know he has never been one to toe the line. All his university friends know this. If there’s a rule to be broken, my mad husband will be the one to break it.

I can tell you what I love about running our own business. We can take a vacation any time we want and however long we want (that is why the system set-up is so important). Our last holiday was a 10-day stretch with minimal email. We can go off at a moment’s notice (we once had a durian lunch on a Wednesday and took the rest of the day off). We can have the freedom to do the things we like, as long as the team knows how to do their tasks right. But it wasn’t overnight. We struggled through a lot in the early years, fighting a lot of inner demons, adapting, modifying and figuring out how we were to run this business. Oh and lots of arguments too. Nic and I have differing opinions on most things and we often have to argue things out first.

The secret sauce to a more intriguing marriage.

Having a business also brings a special dimension to our marriage. While most spouses grouse about not having anything in common to discuss, we have a bit too many! Our business discussions sometimes go way overboard, during meal times, during holidays, during family events. We talk about marketing ideas, we talk about clients’ issues, we talk about our next big thing to do, we buy and read the same marketing books and get excited over business stuff most people find tedious.

Oh and we see each other all the time. I see him 24/7. (God, give me a break sometimes! That is why I go off on my own at times – maybe that’s really why I started a businesswomen’s networking group.)

The thing is, running a business can be the most exciting thing for some people once they “fall” accidentally into it (like me).

Funnily though, I was also quite happy being an employee. Sure there were office politics and petty annoyances. But I loved every bit of it. I loved reporting to my CEO and telling him what I had planned for the Corp Comms department. I loved the office parties and gossip. I enjoyed the offsite retreats.

So are you cut out to be a business owner?

I guess what I’m trying to say is this – you may not think of yourself as particularly enterprising or business-like but running a (small) business has a lot of advantages – personally and financially. If you’re the type who likes being independent and making decisions or solving problems and can retain a sense of humour about it all, it’s gratifying to be in business for yourself.

The not-so-nice part is, the early years can be tough on you and your family. If you are willing to rough it out and live on less, you can probably make it. We rented an apartment for 9 years because whatever we made, we re-invested in the business. The business came first. We didn’t have a holiday for the longest time because we didn’t have proper systems in place – if we weren’t around, the business couldn’t run itself. If something happened, we had to fix it. No one else could do it for us. (Maybe I should start another blog on sharing the lessons learnt in our 13 years of business. Hmm…just a little maybe.)

And did I tell you we were a work-from-home business in the early years? Yup we were. I could tell you about the incredible joys and horrors of working from home.

So tell me, are you in business? What do you like about it? What do you despise about it? If you’re not in business, do you wish to be in it one day?

My Life in France

I just finished reading Julia Child’s highly delicious memoir called “My Life in France”. It is a delightful, enticing read and one you must not miss if you are interested in cooking and all things French.

I picked this book on my first trip to Book Excess in PJ not too long ago. It was either this or Agatha Christie’s memoirs.

Meryl Streep as Julia Child in the movie "Julie & Julia"
Image courtesy of Amazon

I decided to buy and read Julia Child first as I had watched the movie “Julie and Julia” last year, thanks to Vern. In the movie though, it was only Julie’s perspective on Julia so I believed that delving into Julia’s life would be a better way to know the American who had practically revolutionized French cuisine in America, teaching American women how to cook French food without being intimidated or scorned by the snooty, artisanal French.

You must watch the movie if only to marvel at what Julie threw herself into.

Based on a true story, Julie gave herself a challenge of cooking 1 recipe a day from Julia Child’s French cookery book, Mastering The Art of French Cooking and blogging about it – her success, her failure and her life/work as she struggles to do what she believes is the impossible.

Along the way, she learns about who she really is (aren’t all journeys like that? We think we are going on a journey but it is the growth that we are craving). While the movie was superb, I felt there wasn’t much closure in the end as Julia Child did not wish to meet Julie at all. I felt disgruntled by the grand old dame of French cookery. Surely she cannot be so snobbish?!

Anyway, that is possibly the second reason I bought this book. If only to satisfy my curiosity about what sort of woman Julia Child was!

You would think that a woman of such calibre must be quite a force in the kitchen in her early days.

Surprisingly no.

When Julia landed in Paris in 1948 with her utterly charming husband, Paul, she did not speak French and knew nothing about the cuisine. What struck her was her first meal off the ship, at a Michelin-starred restaurant called Restaurant La Couronne where she was introduced to her first French meal of the day, a Sole Meuniere, “a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top”. She called it the most exciting meal of her life.

As this book was written together with her grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, it sings with Child’s exuberance and love for all things La Belle France.

I was ultimately transported to France from her lively description about food, food preparation, living in Paris and then other places in Europe, learning at L’Ecole du Cordon Bleu, moving from apartment to apartment, collaborating with Simca for 10 years on a 750-page French cookery book, and becoming a TV personality on French cooking when she arrives back in the US in the 1960s… all these are perfectly captured. It helped that Paul, her husband, was an avid photographer and this memoir is filled with beautiful black and white images of Paris and Julia Child of the 1950s.

At times serious (when she realizes she isn’t ever going to be a mother or when she realizes her father never really liked her marrying a non-Republican) and at times playful and irreverently funny, the memoir sings with her personality. (The movie captured rather well too – Julia Child is played by Meryl Streep who really does an incredible job of portraying her to her most eccentric!).

Perhaps what made Julia the queen of French cooking in America is her ability to be honest with herself and adapt to changes as they arrive and take things with a twinkle in her eye and a practical no-nonsense approach to life. Her collaborative effort with Simca, her French counterpart, ran to 750-pages which was of course rejected by her American publisher. Although it was a 10-year effort (in those days, there was no email so she and Simca wrote each other via post to write their book, testing the recipes again and again, figuring out if the ingredients can be found in the US and etc. – I cannot image the detail of the tome), Julia decided she would be practical and trim it down without missing a beat.

When she passed on in 2004, Julia had published 3 books in her lifetime – Volumes 1 and 2 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and From Julia Child’s Kitchen. She did not succumb to the idea of opening her own restaurant although she could’ve because her first love was cooking and sharing this with her audience on TV.

I believe her success was partly due to her husband. Paul supported and indulged his wife’s passion, and his wine hobby spurred her on to pair cuisine with wine. Paul was her confidante and photographer, critic and artistic collaborator. Without him, Julia would have crumbled. With every move, he’d help her set up her kitchen properly so she could quietly test and re-test the recipes she’d learnt.

Reading a memoir is like slipping into someone’s life and home, if only for the briefest moments to experience a world so utterly fascinating and downright pleasing that it leaves me a little breathless. It is a real fantasy (oh what an oxymoron!) that enthralls. I have never been to Paris or even tried my hand at French cooking. But through Julia, I get to see what Paris was like in the years after the war, how inquisitive they are, how madly possessive they are about their cuisine and what lengths they go to for their food.

I leave you with a beautiful quote from the memoir:

“In Paris in the 1950s, I had the supreme good fortune to study with a remarkably able group of chefs. From them I learned why good French food is an art, and why it makes such sublime eating: nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should. Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn’t use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste and texture…But a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor, a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience. Such was the case with the sole meuniere I ate at La Couronne on my first day in France, in November 1948. It was an epiphany.” (p. 332)

As Julia says at the end of her cooking shows, Bon appetit!

Isaac’s Tips for Getting Your Own Mojo Style

I like Isaac Mizrahi simply because he’s funny and gay and not ashamed to be who he is.

It could be I adore his name, which is quite a marble in the mouth.

I think I started to really pay attention to him when he appeared on one episode of Project Runway.

I’m still very much into style and fashion and over the years, I’ve developed my own sense of dressing.

I don’t subscribe to brands just because they are there. I just want to wear clothes which fit me and look like I’m wearing them, not the other way round.

That’s why I’m really not brand-conscious at all. I can wear some pasar malam stuff, or I can wear some boutique stuff. I can carry clothes happily by turning them into a style of my own. I add some accessories and mix and match and in no time, I’ve got my own mojo. Plus I love making my own accessories!

I read Mizrahi’s How To Have Style book and loved it, just as I enjoyed Nina Garcia’s book, Little Black Book of Style. (Here’s a tip: find useful style and fashion tips from books and blogs. Don’t follow blindly but follow what makes your body shape look enticing.)

Style is really confidence – it has everything and nothing to do with clothes.

I read a quote which stayed with me over the years – this was a great booster in times when I wasn’t too sure about myself (yes, I have had a bad perm before, I have also been gangly and tall and thin and I used to wear specs!) – it goes: “If you are not yourself at 30, you will never be yourself at any age.”

We all need to learn to be comfortable with ourselves and I don’t mean physically but emotionally as well. When our foundation is strong, we can handle anything that comes our way.

A Little Bit Italian

Everyone loves Italian food.

spaghetti carbonara recipe
spaghetti carbonara recipe

They’re simple food yet tasty to the last bite. But I don’t think cooking spaghetti bolognaise is a quick affair, especially if I want to chop fresh tomatoes and mince some meat for the bolognaise sauce after a long day at the office.

Recently, I came across a quick spaghetti carbonara recipe in an Aussie magazine. Decided to try it out since it didn’t need much time and I had most of the ingredients.

It took all of 20 minutes to cook!

Taste-wise, it was divine. Creamy with just enough sauce to coat each strand of pasta, it had the right balance with the smoky saltiness of streaky bacon. If you want to indulge, get prosciutto ham.

If you like a creamy white sauce pasta without hassle (that is, without stirring carbonara sauce over a stove for the longest time), this is the carbonara recipe to die for. This is the kind of food you want to indulge if you need a carbo refill for energy. (My cousin makes a good carbonara sauce but hers takes sometime to cook so here is my cheat sheet recipe.)

Spaghetti Carbonara
(serves 2 quite amply!)

120 gm pasta of your choice (spaghetti or fettucini)

How to cook pasta:
Bring a vat of water to boil with a teaspoon of salt and a dash of oil. Once boiling, throw in your pasta. Oil helps separate the strands of pasta. Any oil will do (don’t waste your extra virgin olive oil in this please).
Cook until pasta is al-dente (firm but not soggy) which is probably 10 – 12 minutes.
Do not cover pasta pot or your water will boil over. When your pasta is cooking, shift gears to make the carbonara sauce.

For super-quick carbonara sauce:

2 eggs, beaten well
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
5-6 strips streaky bacon, cut into 2 inch strips
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoon butter
chopped parsley for garnishing (I prefer coriander for more oomph)
1 tablespoon chili flakes
salt & pepper
black pepper, freshly ground

1. Mix beaten egg with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and season with some salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. In a pan, melt butter and saute garlic until fragrant. Add bacon. Fry until bacon starts to get crispy. Turn off fire but let pan (and its contents) remain on the stove.
3. Remove pasta from boiling water. Place into a bowl. Working quickly, combine with beaten egg mixture (see Step 1). Mix well.
4. Pour pasta and egg mix into warm pan (from Step 2). Mix well to combine. The heat from the boiling water and the pan will partially cook the egg. Add in chili flakes, salt, black pepper and remaining parmesan. Dish up and serve warm.

Note: The eggs will coat the pasta and make it lovely and creamy.

A Little Bookshop Story

I don’t have much space on my bookshelf anymore. In fact books are spilling off the shelves, perched precariously as they are. Yet as any diehard bookworm will tell you, there is nothing like coming home with a bagful of delicious finds from the bookshop with a big silly grin as if we’d discovered the most precious gems in the world.

To me, there really is nothing like a book.

As a child, I’d spent countless hours with my head stuck in a book. I was quite embarrassed to be called bookish and nerdy but that was essentially what I was.

Back then, it was all for the joy and pleasure of reading and letting stories carry me up and away to lands I could only imagine.

Until today, that book habit has stayed. Of course my repertoire includes lots of marketing and business books, besides the fiction and memoirs which I read.

Each country I travel to, I make it a point to poke my head into a bookshop.

In Cochin airport, before departing India, I found Sankar’s which despite its relatively small size, sold fantastic contemporary titles aside the usual Ayurvedic books on health and healing. You guessed it. Although I had checked in my luggage, I decided to hand carry the pile of books – the selections were that enticing, not to mention cheap!

The books were of good quality, printed on quality paper and not the see-through type of paper we usually associate with Indian reprints. Added to this, after conversion from rupee to ringgit, it was really inexpensive and worth buying.

When I was in Hong Kong in March this year, again one of my quests was to find at least one of the three bookshops I had jotted down. With real estate being what it is in HK, bookshops should be quite interesting. I mentioned to Nic that we really should look for Flow, a secondhand bookshop in Central, before we left. We wandered down some narrow streets in Central and almost gave up as the warren of tightly packed shops and confusing signboards completely overwhelmed us.

Evening market scene in Central, Hong Kong
Evening market scene in Central, Hong Kong

It was one of those evenings where dusk really fell fast – we felt chilly and had to duck into Lan Fong Yuen cafe for a rest and a cup of its famous milk tea (only to discover that they proudly proclaimed the milk was imported from Malaysia!). Once we felt rested and re-energized by the tea, we stood outside the tiny cafe and casually glanced around us. What did we find but Flow the bookshop, just a few steps away from Lan Fong Yuen!

Lan Fong Yuen, the famous nai-cha place in Central, HK
Lan Fong Yuen, the famous nai-cha place in Central, HK

Flow was on the first floor, above a contemporary Thai restaurant on Lyndhurst Terrace. We looked around for a way to go up, only to find the stairs were located behind the restaurant!

We finally found Flow organic bookshop!
We finally found Flow organic bookshop!

Up two short flights of stairs and we entered into a book haven. It wasn’t much bigger than my hall at home but oh the eclectic titles made me swoon. Books of all shapes and sizes, of all subjects, even audio CDs were available. From design to spirituality, from fiction to Chinese history, you name it – Flow had it and at reasonable prices too. (I found out about Flow from this article – it was one of HK’s best indie book nooks.)

Flow bookshop, above Cafe Siam
Flow bookshop, above Cafe Siam

If it were not for the fact that we had to rush off to attend an Irish dance performance (that month being the Hong Kong Arts Festival and we specifically bought tickets for this performance), Nic and I would have been stuck in Flow till closing time. When we got back to SP’s apartment that night, we gushed so much about this secondhand bookshop that she visited it a few times after we left HK. I said I would visit Flow again the next time I visit HK.

About a week ago, SP emailed, saying that Flow would be closing up as rent prices in HK was rising dramatically. I was saddened! Flow was one of the best finds during our trip to HK, much better than any of the cafes or museums we’d been to. On its Facebook page, it said it had been 13+ years at its present location and they were having a sale prior to moving. I hope Flow is moving but not closing up!

Of course, in Penang I have my regular secondhand bookshop in 2020 in Midlands One-Stop. I go by every now and then to check out its stash of Terry Pratchett books.

Everyone in KL and PJ – at least all my bookworm friends – had told me that I should go to Book Excess in Amcorp Mall. I have been to Payless Books but friends literally persuaded me that I should go to Amcorp Mall to see for myself.

And so I did. The place was huge and its books were new and affordable and I wanted to take every book home. It was like finding a pot of gold! Every book simply cried out to be taken home.

I had to make some choices – I knew I wanted them but I knew my shelf space was running out. I so wanted to read Agatha Christie’s autobiography and Paul Coelho’s memoir. But you know what, I did buy Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France as well as a book on beading. The rest were pure business books. We bought so many books we qualified automatically for their member discount card.

It’s a blessing and curse sometimes to give in to my book-buying spirit!

Banana Walnut Muffins, Mayakirana Style

If you read this blog, you know I like to bake easy cakes and simple muffins. I don’t fancy long hours in the kitchen, toiling over a hot meal nor do I like spending the whole afternoon making a cake I can eat in a day. There’s just so much of time I could spend on cooking but I’d rather read, you know?

Breakfast can be a bore sometimes with the same-old stuff.

And I like my breakfast to be fast and simple. The best solution to my breakfast woe is to have muffins. I can make them the day before or even many days before (chuck them in the freezer and they last a long time), thaw then warm them up in a toaster oven, eat them plain or with butter and wash them down with a mug of Milo or tea.

banana walnut muffins - healthy breakfast in a jiffy
banana walnut muffins - healthy breakfast in a jiffy

The other criteria is that the muffins must be totally healthy. I can be quite a health freak so if I am making muffins (or cake or whatever) I need my food to be tasty and super-nutritious. My style is to take a basic muffin recipe and modify it to suit my healthy inclinations.

This muffin recipe is a modification from Betty Yew’s banana walnut muffin recipe from an old recipe book I’d xeroxed from my mum a few years ago.

Her recipe calls for 165 gm of sugar but I don’t like too much sweetness in my muffins so I reduce it by 40 gm or so. Plus I add other ingredients such as ground flaxseed, cranberries/blackcurrants/raisins and (very) ripe bananas so they add natural sweetness to the muffins. (You must use ground flaxseed if you want optimum goodness from your flaxseed. If you don’t, you don’t get the omega goodness they supply as their hard outer shells pass through your body and prevent your body from absorbing anything!)

Another reason why I love this muffin recipe is that it is easy! (I know, please don’t get sick of this word. It’s crucial to me. LOL.)

I don’t need to use anything except a whisk. No electric mixer. Muffins are basically putting dry ingredients and wet ingredients together which you then put into muffin cups and bake.

But I’ve tried other previous recipes and most of them turned out hard and dry and crumbly. I want a muffin to taste a bit like cake with a moist crumb. Thankfully I found it in this banana walnut muffin recipe. Eating these muffins make me feel great too as it is chockfull of great, nutritious stuff. Nothing like starting your day with a healthy muffin. None of that supermarket stuff, thank you!

Since everyone who came here loved Nigella’s cupcake recipe as it’s such a tried-and-tested success, here’s Betty Yew’s slightly modified banana walnut muffin recipe.

(Or take a look at my best banana cake recipe if you like. As you can see, I’m a big fan of bananas!. How about a chocolate raisin cake recipe since you’re here?)

Banana Walnut Muffins
Makes 18 muffins

60 ml corn oil
125 gm castor sugar
3 eggs, beaten
4 very ripe bananas, mashed

Sift these ingredients:
125 gm self raising flour
125 gm wholemeal flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
(As you sift, there’ll be lots of brown bits from the wholemeal flour. I usually put them back into the flour once I’ve sifted them. Mix in 3 tbsp ground flaxseed after sifting if you like. This is optional and leaving it out will not affect the taste of your muffins.)

1/2 tsp vanilla essence
60 gm chopped walnuts
60 gm raisins/dried cranberries/blackcurrants
2/3 cup fresh UHT milk

1. Preheat oven to 190 Centigrade.
2. With a whisk, beat corn oil and sugar for approx. 5 minutes.
3. Add eggs and beat again until well-combined.
4. Add mashed bananas and mix well.
5. Add sifted dry ingredients and stir in vanilla essence, walnuts and whatever dried fruit you are using.
6. Slowly add in milk and combine.
7. Fill muffin cup (or greased muffin tray) until two-thirds full. Bake for 25 minutes until done.

Try this and let me know how it turns out!

Crush UTI With This Herb

Women tend to suffer from UTI. If you have to ask what UTI is, you’re probably not a woman.

I’ve heard that little girls also suffer from this.

The thing about UTI is, it hurts when you go to the loo for a pee. It burns. It makes you wanna grip someone’s hands and crush them. It is that freaking painful. (Men, you are so lucky you don’t get this!)

Even my cat gets UTI once in a while. She gets it when we’ve been a bit lazy in cleaning up her poo tray. When bacteria gets into the urinary tract, UTI happens. Yes folks it stands for Urinary Tract Infection.

I notice that I tend to get it when I am stressed or eat too many acidic type foods like meat and fried stuff. It also happens when I drink less water and work too much.

OK, perfect recipe for UTI to happen.

In the past, I would’ve been frantic and would look for medicine. Any pill to pop. Anything that stops the pain.

The last time I got UTI, I got smart.

All you need is java tea or misai kucing or Orthosiphon Stamineus herb. I was fortunate that Mylene gave me a pot of misai kucing when I last visited her. Misai kucing herb or plant is beneficial for detoxification, high blood pressure and diabetes. It is also good for women who suffer from UTI.

Misai kucing herb
Misai kucing herb

If you can, get a cutting of this plant and root it in some water for a few days. Once you see tiny roots coming out, you can plant this in a pot outdoors. It doesn’t need much care, as long as you put it in a place where it gets plenty of water and sunshine. Of course, like all plants, fertilize it once every 2 weeks. As I have my compost ever ready, my misai kucing plant gets potted with a mix of quality soil and compost. Compost is really easy to make if you have a bit of space and want to live a lot more green.

My misai kucing plant has yet to sprout the cat’s whiskers which it is most famous for. However, I read online that most people drink misai kucing tea that they buy off the shelf (the leaves are dried and packed in tea bag style).

To cure UTI, just pluck fresh misai kucing leaves (about 4 or 5 leaves will do) and tear them into smaller pieces. Put these into a mug and pour over with boiling hot water. Let this steep, covered for 10 minutes. The tea is very mild with little colour. Drink this and in less than 2 hours, your UTI problem would have disappeared. If it persists, drink another cup of this tea.

I tested this on myself the last round I got UTI and yes, the magical herb did its trick. Faster than any pill. The tea flushes the bacteria from the urinary tract. It seems the tea can be used to get rid of kidney stones.

To make it harder for the bacteria, you can wash with a solution of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Dilute about a teaspoon of baking soda in 250 ml water.

I’m all for natural remedies and cures for urinary tract infection. After all, the cure is in Mother Nature. Even if you don’t drink misai kucing tea for UTI, it is perfectly all right to drink it as a means to detox and clear your body of toxic wastes.

Dirt Has Inertia

I’ve never felt more hopeful for Malaysia than today. Now. At this very moment.

It helps that I live in Penang, the state that is a little bit of rebellious rock ‘n roll.

It helps that we have a Chief Minister who doesn’t mince his words nor goes around frying up char kueh teow to please the crowd.

He may make mistakes here and there, but you know what, he is also undoing the mistakes of the past 30 or so years.

Cleaning up takes time. Dirt has inertia.

At least he’s got balls. Can’t stand a man who has no guts.

You know, the courage to stand up for what’s worth standing up for. Remember this man was jailed for his beliefs and fighting the truth.

Yes, since 2008, I’ve felt even more hopeful. The coalition may be a bit unsteady on its feet at some point but the thing I see is, it has managed to transcend the boundaries of race and religion.

Before, you voted for your race representative.

Now, people will vote for a solid belief, hope for the future. I’ve heard friends saying, “I don’t care if he’s Indian, Malay or Chinese. I am voting for change.”

It’s not a fad, nor a radical new thing which will fade with time. It seems to me that Gen X and Gen Y are happier unshackled by the ghosts of 1969. We are a lot more fearless because we don’t know that bogeyman. It’s not real to us and it doesn’t mean a thing.

It doesn’t take us away from our hopes.

This brings me to my vision of what one day we will be.

We will be true Malaysians.

Call me an idealist but I’d rather be a warrior idealist any day and fight a good fight than be a chicken and pretend things are all going well when they aren’t. I’ve written about friends who emigrate and I wonder if they’ve lost all hope and prefer going away.

Whatever it is, I am eternally optimistic that things will be better once we are all Malaysians – not just Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan etc.

Yes, dirt has inertia but there are ways to make things clean again.

Meandering Down Hatyai Streets

One of those things I enjoyed was exploring Hatyai on my own, on the final day.

image of Hatyai town, Thailand
One of the quieter streets of Hatyai

This was after the morning market adventure. I am not a big shopper so my idea was to check things out and buy only if it caught my fancy. It was blazing hot as I walked down tiny streets, far less busy than the main thoroughfare, and I thought, really far from the Malaysian tourists.

image of a little back street of Hatyai
Working class neighbourhood in Hatyai

As this was the last day, I wanted to see things at my own pace. Our bus was leaving at 5pm so I had a few more hours. Our bags were already packed so the only thing was to return to the hotel and return the keycard to the reception. So I wasn’t really in a hurry at all. Plus I had a little bit more Thai baht left and wanted to spend it all. It wasn’t worth carting home and exchanging it at the money changer.

The hotel breakfast wasn’t anything to shout about so I was quite hungry when I left Lee Gardens Plaza. I decided to see what the locals were eating. I read that if you are alone and undecided on the food of choice, just follow the locals and eat what they eat. You can’t go wrong. Local food can be very appetizing.

Down a narrow and quiet street I walked. This was definitely not a tourist street as it looked, smelled and sounded like a working class neighbourhood. Quaint shops with dark interiors beckoned as I ambled past. I had no itinerary. I was in no rush. It was about noon so a number of locals were shuffling into these shops for their lunch. Unlike Penang, it wasn’t about variety. Each shop sold one type of food – either rice with roast chicken or braised pork with salted vegetables. Each shop looked very family-run with everyone from young to old helping out. But the shops were clean with cool, dark interiors and mostly Chinese appearance.

Simple lunch fare for Hatyai folks
Simple lunch fare for Hatyai folks

A plate of white rice with braised pork sounded like a good lunch so I entered one of the shops and sat down. The stool was tiny, so was the wooden table. Anyway, it was only 40 Baht or RM4. They served me quickly and to my delight, the rice came with a small plastic bowl of pepper soup and some salted vegetable by the side. My lunch tasted very good indeed that day.

image of braised pork rice with soup

There’s something inherently wanton and liberating about a foreign town, being on one’s own and taking time to really enjoy one’s simple meal. Other customers were chattering away in Thai but I was lost in my own reverie. For a moment, I thought that bliss was really this – a meal made with heart, in a town I could get indelibly lost in.

inside the quaint shop, a respite from the heat outside
Inside the quaint shop, a respite from the heat outside

After a leisurely lunch, I was eager to traipse and see more of working Hatyai. No one called out to me and asked me to buy things (you get this in the more touristy areas).

Peanut seller in Hatyai

Along the way, I saw a man sitting at the kerb, selling peanuts. I didn’t really want any, not after the meal I had but he was so endearing – he actually offered me peanuts to try. I smiled, took some and went my way but not before snapping a photo of him. His toothless grin told me he was happy that I made him a ‘star’ in some way.

I continued to explore, not knowing where I was going. I hoped I wouldn’t get lost but even if I did, I knew that all I had to do was jump into a tuk-tuk and tell him to go to Lee Gardens Plaza.

image of salted seafood for sale

My brains were almost fried because the noon-day heat beat down without mercy. Yet the lure of the smelly market was too strong. I didn’t know which street I went into but it had stalls selling salted fish of all types. Hatyai is dirty and worn but it also charmed me in a way.

image of market in Hatyai

When I finally found my way back to the hotel, I met up with Cecilia and her family. We decided to spend our last baht in Swensen’s while waiting for our bus to arrive.

I like meandering down musty, working-class neighbourhoods and watching the locals work and go about their daily lives. What about you? Do you like this part of travelling too?