I'm A Religious Chameleon

I’ve wanted to update this blog with so many things but business gets in the way. (I can tell you, if you want to live a normal life, don’t wish to be an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur does not have an ordinary life.)
Anyway, this is not about business today. It’s about spirituality.
In the past 2 years, I’ve started to become a teeny weeny bit interested in Tibetan Buddhism. I’ve been a Buddhist all my life but I really started knowing Buddhism when I was an undergrad in USM. That opened my eyes to what real Buddhism is about. (What you think is Buddhism today is really Buddhism-Confucianism-Taosim all rolled up like some california roll.)
But Nic and I aren’t really the temple-going sort. I don’t think I’ll be a better Buddhist just going to the temple and looking as if I’m horribly pious.
Besides, most friends think I am a Christian.
Yes, I have a lot of Christian friends (and I have dinners with the clergy) but surprise, surprise, I am a Buddhist. I don’t advertise my religious leaning because let’s face it, it’s personal (just like your sex life. If you’re gay, it’s your choice). I don’t wear anything that puts me in a specific category of spiritual people either. And this neither-here-nor-there confuses lots of people. They’re not sure if I’m atheist, Christian, Buddhist, or what-have-you.
So it’s sometimes difficult to proselytize to me. I could be anything. As my best friend is Catholic and the other is Hindu, I am familiar with the festivals and practices of both. (In fact, I schooled in a missionary school and I remembered being a 10-year old and memorizing the Lord’s Prayer!). So you could call me a religious chameleon.
But yes, back to Tibetan Buddhism. What appeals is that the visiting monks or rinpoches can speak English. Their Dhamma talks are easy to understand. They’re less fussy about protocol and understand that everyday living makes keeping the precepts a challenge all the time.
If you’re keen to hear a real rinpoche speak, a few events are scheduled in Penang this week by His Holiness Phakchok Rinpoche.
Tonight’s talk is on Amitabha Buddha at Jalan Concordia (contact Andrew Ho 012 483 3212). There are 3 other events happening – 30 April (meditation class), 1 May (7 point mind training) and 2 May (puja). All are conducted by His Holiness who really, if he weren’t a monk, would be a truly fun guy, by the look of him.
(Another Tibetan monk has an even more amazing story. He used to be a male model! Tsem Tulku Rinpoche strikes me as an extremely good-looking man! I suppose therein lies the attractor factor why he has legions of fans besides the religion of course.)

The Simplest Bread Recipe Ever

I know I’ve made claims about my special banana cake recipe and that recipe is simply superb and just too easy BUT this time, I take my topi off to Yeo for the easiest bread recipe ever.
Even if you haven’t baked anything in your life, I bet you could bake this bread.

This is how the bread looks like, sliced...
This is how the bread looks like, sliced...

Especially if you enjoy chewy bread that’s stuffed full of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
Bread that is not made with white flour. (Ooooh, the white culprits.)
Bread that’s healthy. Made with organic rye flour and organic (unbleached) wholemeal flour.
When Yeo told me about this recipe, I didn’t really believe him. After all, he is a bread maestro. He makes things sound easy.
But I did taste his bread and I must say I was impressed. (As an aside: Did I tell you that I took home to Penang 3 slices of his homemade bread on the AirAsia flight from KL and the bread still tasted divine upon arrival? Make that 3 slices of homemade bread AND a box of sinfully rich butter cake and marble cake, tar-pau’d from the famous OUG weekend market.)
He made it sound too easy so I was keen on trying his recipe out only to find that I didn’t have the flours needed to make this bread and I had been way too buggered by work and projects to pop into Jusco to get my organic flours.
Until last week when I managed to get to Queensbay Mall.
I say this recipe is easy because I didn’t even need to knead the dough.
I just mixed everything up, put it aside to rise for a few hours, came back to stir it a bit, left it to rise again for an hour and then scooped the dough into a loaf pan and popped it into the oven. About 40 minutes later, the bread was ready!
I am not kidding.
The white stuff are rolled oats sprinkled on the top for rustic charm!
The white stuff are rolled oats sprinkled on the top for rustic charm!

If you’re new to bread-making/bread-baking and want something fail-proof, this has got to be it.
For this wholemeal rye bread, you’ll need to mix together in a fairly large mixing bowl:
3 cups wholemeal flour (I used Country Farm brand from Jusco, 500gm for RM4.10)
1 cup rye flour (also Country Farm brand from Jusco, 500gm for RM4.50)
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt (mine’s Himalayan Rock Salt)
2 cups warm water
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
You’ll get this gooey mess when everything’s nicely combined. Leave this in a warm corner of your kitchen for 3 hours. It will rise and become double its size. After 3 hours, stir it a bit (to deflate those air bubbles created by the yeast activity) and leave it for another 1 hour. It will start to rise again.
Get a loaf pan. I didn’t grease it but just sprinkled plain flour in it. I was worried the bread might not come out of the pan if I didn’t do that.
Scoop the dough into the loaf pan. (Remember to pre-heat your oven for 20 minutes at 180C before this.) Put the pan into the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Once done, cool and pop bread out.
A closer look at the bread
A closer look at the bread

As this bread does not have any preservative or bread improver or anything faintly synthetic, it keeps well in a tightly covered container in the freezer. To serve, just thaw it by leaving it out at room temperature for a few hours or warming it in the oven for a few minutes. Great with pats of fine butter.
Nutty, healthy, dense and chewy bread - yummy with butter!
Nutty, healthy, dense and chewy bread - yummy with butter!

I found that a slice of this dense and nutty bread keeps me full the whole morning! It must be all those healthy seeds!
Thanks, Yeo for a brilliant bread recipe. This will probably be my fave bread too!

PowerPuff Gals for Charity

Now I am embarrassed.
I know a few friends read this blog but to be told that on a certain morning can be quite unnerving (yes, BL, I mean you!). Especially on the morning of a certain treasure hunt. Ahem.
OK, embarrassment aside, I had a bloody grand time on Saturday during the Charis Hospice Charity Hunt with Ai Lee, Ming and Lerks.

Ming decided to pull on her sponsored shirt just so we could get in cheaper at Fort Cornwallis...it didn't work!
Ming decided to pull on her sponsored shirt just so we could get in cheaper at Fort Cornwallis...it didn't work!

And out of 58 teams, we got 4th place!
Imagine, with all the big guns of treasure hunts at our backs, we four gals actually won and each took home a Dell printer. I tell you, it was such beginner’s luck. And what a blast it was.
Lerks trying to sneak in a photo op without paying the guy!
Lerks trying to sneak in a photo op without paying the guy!

But I think it was our blase attitude/let’s play for fun/let’s not stress ourselves out which helped.
Lerks drove her Kelisa like a wild woman (man, I love her driving. She puts lots of love in her illegal u-turns and tight corner turns!) despite being a hunt virgin like Ai Lee. Now Ai Lee, bless her, was the ‘momma’ of our group – she bought us charsiew pau’s when we were hungry at the Chew Jetty.
Not having any real strategy helped too.
We didn’t get up that morning thinking, OK, we want to win this hunt. Nah, we were the only team who adamantly refused to wear the oversized sponsored shirts. We were the ones who did not go with laptops. We just went as we were, praying that our brains were enough to help us through.
Gorgeous gals having a cuppa on King Street
Gorgeous gals having a cuppa on King Street

But having Lerks and Ming, two Penangites, helped considerably. They knew all the short cuts through the housing estates. They knew stuff.
Chew Jetty, one of the 7 on Weld Quay
Chew Jetty, one of the 7 on Weld Quay

Lerks was smart enough to think like a typical Penangite – let’s go to the furthest point (Hill Railway Road where Penang Hill was) and work our way back to the inner city of Georgetown instead of the other way. This helped save us lots of time plus we even had time to stop for drinks at Ecco Cafe on Chulia Street to properly copy down our answers and brainstorm the last few answers before driving happily to Berjaya Georgetown Hotel to submit our answer sheets. This must be one of the most relaxed hunts I’ve ever been on!
The best thing about the hunt was the heritage sites we had to visit while deciphering road names and solving puzzles. I had never been to P.Ramlee’s kampung house and finally I did. I had never gone inside Fort Cornwallis and Chew Jetty (ok, that is embarrassing right?) until last Saturday.
And I never knew so many delicious facts about my little fair isle, the island I choose to call home for the past 15 years. I had never stared so hard at the cabinet interior at the Sun Yat Sen Penang base on Armenian Street. And I never knew Penang had so many beautiful, historical war memorials until then.
Dell printers for 4 tired gals!
Dell printers for 4 tired gals!

I also discovered many places where I would love to visit again, especially the little tea house where tea is brewed by the jug and you can sit down for a cup of Chinese pu-erh tea for as little as RM1.20! (By the way, that’s on King Street). And of course, I will never look at any war memorial or temple or clanhouse the same again.
My favourite question of the hunt?
“It lets a yacht refit here.”
I knew the answer immediately because the heritage site in question is located on a street I used to roam about. Plus I had visited the inside of this heritage site. (Answer: Cathay Hotel on Leith Street. Did you know that Leith Street is also called Lotus Flower River?)
See, I DO know my little island well! My great grandpa would be so darn proud!
(More photos over at my Facebook page….)

Do I Know My Fair Isle?

This has been a strange week. For one, I didn’t get much work done due to a couple of things.
Headache (major freaking one), meetings, friends popping by (not that I minded really…good distraction) the office, visiting bookstores (MPH and Borders both in a week, am I having a grand time or what) and a full day workshop on setting business goals.
I AM tired out.
But the week isn’t officially over. Not by a long mile.
I have a treasure hunt tomorrow morning.
Damn. I hope I can crawl out of bed at 6am.
It’s a treasure hunt across Penang heritage sites and I hope all my site visits with PHT have been worthwhile. Anyway, this was a last-minute decision to join the Charis Hospice treasure hunt because my gal pals were missing a fourth person. I know most of my treasure hunt friends are joining (after all this is Penang!). I didn’t want to barge into their already formed groups until Ai Lee invited me on Monday.
Frankly, I’m not a big crazy hunt kaki. I like the prospect of a good challenge but that’s it.
Actually I can be a bit snooty now that I’ve chalked up some hunt experience (by paying ‘tuition’ – well, hunt fees are usually considered tuition fees anyway – you pay to learn, geddit?). I actually hunted with the professionals once and did they enlighten me some. They came well equipped to win!
Ai Lee and I spoke on the phone on Monday evening and she exclaimed that 6 hours for a hunt was long.
“My dear! When you’re frantic for answers, time just flies by!” I said.
It does seem long – 6 hours. But wait till you’re in a car with 3 other people, frantically searching for answers and googling your own brain till its juice dry up. 6 hours seem more like 6 minutes!
Here’s what I learnt from the pros:
1. Always have a 5th person stationed at home, in front of a PC with Net access. This will be crucial in helping you win. Call this person to get facts checked and answers compared if you are dumbfounded.
2. Calm down. It pays to be still like a Zen master in the car when all your team members are going crazy with tension you can smell.
3. Equip yourself with good general knowledge. Everything helps! (Bring all the necessary dictionaries, laptops, world book you can find)
4. Bring lots of water and snacks. You will get hungry while thinking. Load up on sugar so your brains work properly.
5. Have your mobile phone fully charged and ready to speed dial all the people you know to ask for help.
6. A good thesaurus wouldn’t hurt either. Make sure it’s nice and thick with lots of words. Duh!
7. Get a paperbag. You will be sometimes asked to buy items from supermarkets or shops and you certainly don’t want to give the other teams big ideas what you’re buying if you carry them all in transparent plastic bags. This is a competition after all.
8. See #4 but don’t overdo the water. You don’t want to stop all the time for toilet breaks!
9. Eat a full breakfast. Nothing annoys more than a gurgling tummy when the brain is trying to think.
10. If you cannot get the answer the first time around, panic not. Jot down ALL the visible answers (usually signboards of business premises or road names) and do the brainstorm later. No point hyperventilating at the street junction and blocking traffic.
11. Bring a sense of humour. This is not a life-and-death matter. If you win, great. If you don’t, you can always join another hunt later to redeem yourself. Don’t bark at your team mates.
12. Being relaxed is the best way to solve hunt questions. Sometimes the very answer is right in front of our eyes but being tensed makes us all raving blind.
13. Hunt in a spacious car (try an MPV). Nothing peeves people if they’re cramped, hot, frustrated and sitting in a tiny car! What with all those books and thesauruses lying around, people DO get annoyed!
How about you? You enjoy treasure hunts? Got tips to share? Or your own two cents to add?

Muffins for Charity and More…

Never underestimate the power of the ‘Net. Remember the muffin charity call sometime ago?
While I’m horrible at making muffins (Nic will attest to this fervently), I am thankful I have friends like Beng Choo whom I can fall back on whenever there’s a need for yummilicious muffins.
Anyway, Beng Choo wrote this email to everyone today and I want to update all of you (especially those who ordered her banana walnut raisin muffins) that she has far exceeded her goal of collecting RM1K for charity.
The second time she sent out her email to us (asking if we would help her get to her goal of RM1K) I emailed my cousin and sister and within 2 hours, we had lots more orders. It helped that Beng Choo’s muffins did its own word-of-mouth advertising – the proof of its deliciousness was in the eating.
In between her baking ‘days’, she (plus friends and nieces) even managed to go to the hospital to donate blood to a friend who had been severely injured (and who is now in a coma) due to a snatch theft incident near Queensbay Mall.
Finally after the second batch of orders were delivered, Beng Choo sent us all this email below.
Never underestimate the power of a dream.
Thanks to everyone who helped Mindy fulfill her muffin project for charity (see below for the list of homes she is donating to).
Email from Beng Choo
The second round of orders for Mindy’s Muffin Project was even more overwhelming than the first time around. We calculated that we will need an order of 40-48 boxes (depending on the pisang raja market price) to hit our target of RM1K.
However within 5 hours of sending out the message, we received a total order of 113 boxes before we could managed to send out the stop order message.
As a result our profit achieved exceeded our target by 43%, with the total profit amounting to RM1,430. Lee, my husband topped up to make a total of RM1,500. He has also sponsored the electricity for our baking and petrol for our delivery. Special thanks to Wai Hau who has been a great help.
After discussing with Mindy, today, we sent out the total profit to the following homes :
1. Pure Lotus Hospice
2. Bodhi Home (children home run by Pure Lotus )
3. Penang Children’s Protection Society
4. Penang Shan Children Home (located at Bodhi Heart premises)
We also decide to channelled a token sum to Mr. Leong Pow Neng who is still in coma in CCU at Island Hospital. His daughter Cecilia said they will donate the sum to other children/senior citizen home on behalf of their father to make merit to support his recovery/healing. Today is the 13th day Mr. Leong has been in the CCU and has not regain conciousness though there were several occasion he partially open one eye. Thanks for your overwhelming response to the request for blood. For the moment, I understand from Cecilia that they do not need more blood.
Thank you very much for all your generosity and kind support without which this charity project would not have succeeded. Many of you pay more than RM8 per box as on many occasions you all asked us to keep the change which we duly added to our profit amount.
May all the blessings be with you and your family.
With lots of metta,
Beng Choo

Talking About Penangites' Passion

I’m a Penangite if your definition of Penangite is someone who is born in Penang. I wasn’t brought up here but I love this tiny island which is very community-minded. We live here like closeknit kampung folks.
And there’s a thread that knots us all Penangites together – food!
No one can bravely say that Penang is not built on food.
Every corner you turn, there’s bound to be something to tickle, entice, pander and flirt with your taste buds. And everyone who is a Penangite knows that we, either of the adopted-status, or born-here status or the migrated-here status, never leave a conversation without dipping into our fave topic – where to get the best food for our tummies.
That annoys some Caucasian friends because they cannot for the life of them understand why we Malaysians are nuts about stuff we put into our mouths for survival sakes.
My British friend grumbles not-so-good-naturedly that we Asians/Malaysians talk about food a bit too much. He can survive on a week of the same grub and won’t bat an eye. He can eat bread and more bread and still thinks it’s OK. (I don’t mind bread but I’m Asian/Chinese – give me some rice at some point in time!)
Actually, truth be told, Asian lives are tied up with food. Food is the culture that keeps families together, gets us back to the fold and gives us a reason to have a party/celebration. Food is also a status symbol at times, prompting lavish banquets which gives PETA people heart attacks (shark fin anyone?).
More than any other culture, we Chinese take our food seriously. Malays don’t go mad over food like us. And neither do Indians. Look at Malay weddings or Hindu weddings – food is just there as a side accompaniment, it does not overshadow the main event (Hindus are the best; they serve vegetarian food and do not kill any animals just to satisfy man’s hunger).
But look at Chinese weddings and you will suddenly have a throve of food critics who anticipate each of the 8- or 10-dishes and attack food with such vengeance we probably look like we’re some starving nation. And we tsk-tsk all the way on our way out of the wedding dinner, giving snide comments about the quality of the dishes served (and the portions too).
If you take away the Chinese yen for good food and all sorts of food, you take away some Chinese-ness too. That’s the sad truth. We do live to eat, not the other way around. And going by food blogs focusing on Penang food by Penang bloggers, well, we probably have the most number of food bloggers in this tiny state. (Thanks to Derek, here’s one Penang food blog you can peek into)
But it’s not just us Penangites. I was in KL last month and met up with friends.
And of course, our conversation turned to food too.
Yeo raved about this to-die-for butter cake and marble cake sold at the OUG morning market. Before the woman opens her stall for business, there’s a LONG LINE of people in front of the stall. People stand in line on a Saturday and Sunday morning (this is about 7-ish or so) just to buy her smooth as silk butter cake and espresso-fragrant marble cake.
Yeo even said that most people were skeptical about the cake – were the cakes really so damn fantastic that people woke up early on weekends just to buy them in large quantities? Yeo said he was intrigued and so he lined up too, only to realize, damn, the cakes were THAT good. And the lady only sells on weekend mornings.
Just as he was a bit unconvinced, so was I.
I mean, how great can a butter cake be?
Fortunately for me, Yeo did wake up early on Sunday morning, lined up and bought us the cakes so we could bring home to Penang to try.
The butter cake was so fine and rich. The marble cake was full of flavour. They were quite incomparable to any other butter or marble cakes which I’ve tasted. Now I know why it’s worth waking up early for!
So if there’s one unifying factor for Malaysians, it’s got to be food. We will do mad things for food. Another friend is willing to drive miles and miles (even out of Penang) just to discover some snack/food that’s not available on the island. We’re willing to brave traffic for our favourite fruit.
I myself have done it too once – all the way to Taiping to get some popiah and Hainanese chicken chop based on the recommendation in my Flavours magazine. I didn’t get any popiah or good Hainanese chicken chop but I did find a smashing place for kopi and toast!
Even when I get to Kuching, food is the first thing on my mind and they’re pretty damn good. It’s a good thing that I can still eat and NOT have the food show up on my waistline (though my waistline is enlarging….I try to exercise like gila and hula-hooping to get rid of the jelly belly!)
But then again I can tell you, I eat practically everything. I have no problem with chicken feet, chicken intestines, sweetbread, liver, pig brains, duck blood, pig blood, duck tongues, crocodile tails and what-not. I’m not easily frightened of strange animal parts and when I say I can eat anything, I am inherently proud of my Cantonese upbringing.
When I was in HK many years ago, I tried but could not find stinky tofu. I would’ve loved to try that. Also, when I was in Bangkok, I was looking out for fried insects to munch. Unfortunately, I could not seem to find any!
I would like to try some Sarawak sago worms though. I heard they taste like prawns!

The Table Where Rich People Sit

I got this from a good friend, Prabhjit, and could not help reading the whole thing. It is a very apt reminder especially in these times (tough for those who have been laid off work and tough for those who are struggling to overcome the economy crisis) that sometimes we are all rich but we’ve only seen material possessions are definers of our ‘richness’.
I felt very rich when I had a beautiful dinner at my friend’s home on Tuesday night. Mary had cooked up a feast of spaghetti bolognaise, fried pasta with bacon, a light salad and some garlic bread. The four of us had not been meeting up for almost a year and we had felt guilt – we had been so busy with our own lives that we forgot about others. Especially good friends.
I also felt very rich when I watched American Idol last night – one of the contestants was a young man with the face of an angel and sang with love (though he could do with better hair do!). And he was also blind. Scott Macintyre had incredible talent and he was incredibly humble about his journey to stardom so far.
And of course, this story about the table where rich people sit. It’s a long piece but promise you will read it till the end.
It will bring a smile to your heart!
The Table Where Rich People Sit
If you could see us sitting here at our old, scratched-up, homemade kitchen table, you’d know that we aren’t rich.
But my father is trying to tell us we are.
Doesn’t he notice my worn-out shoes? Or that my little brother has patches on the pants he wears to first grade? And why does he think that old rattletrap truck is parked by our door?
“You can’t fool me,” I say. “We’re poor. Would rich people sit at a table like this?”
My mother sort of pats the table and she says, “Well, we’re rich and we sit here every day.”
Sometimes I think that I’m the only one in my whole family who is really sensible.
Maybe I should mention that my parents made this table out of lumber somebody else threw away. They even had a celebration when they finished it.
Understand, I like this table fine. All I’m saying is, you can tell it didn’t come from a furniture store. It just doesn’t look like a table where rich people would sit.
But my mother thinks if all the rulers of the world could get together at a friendly wooden table in somebody’s kitchen, they would solve their arguments in half the time.
And my father says it wouldn’t hurt to have a lot of cookies piled up on a nice blue plate that everyone could reach without asking.
But tonight it’s our kitchen and our argument and our family meeting and our very spicy ginger cookies piled up on my mother’s one good blue-flowered plate exactly in the center of the table.
I’m the one who called the meeting, and the subject is money, and I say we don’t have enough of it. I tell my parents they should both get better jobs so we could buy a lot of nice new things. I tell them I look worse than anyone in school.
“I hate to bring this up,” I say, “but it would help if you both had a little more ambition.”
They look surprised. You can see they never think about the things we need.
Right here, I might as well admit that my parents have some strange ideas about working.
They think the only jobs worth having are jobs outdoors.
They want cliffs or canyons or desert or mountains around them wherever they work. They even want a good view of the sky.
They always work together, and their favorite thing is panning gold—piling us into that beat-up truck and heading for the rocky desert hills or back in some narrow mountain gully where all the roads are just coyote trails.
They love to walk the wide arroyos, the dry streambeds, where little flecks of gold are found.
They used to tell us that the truck just knew which roads to take and that coyotes showed them where to look for gold—but I never did believe it.
After a month or two out there, they always had a little bit of gold to sell, but you can tell it never made them rich.
As far as I can see, it was just an excuse to camp in some beautiful wild place again.
They don’t mind planting fields of sweet corn or alfalfa. They like to pick chile and squash and tomatoes.
They’ll put up strong fences or train wild young horses.
But they say they can’t stand to be cooped up indoors.
So now, of course, my dad is asking, “How many people are as lucky as we are?”
But I’ve called this meeting and I say, “I bet you could make more money working in a building somewhere in town.”
“Remember our number one rule,” he says. “We have to see the sky.”
“You could look through a window,” I say.
But they won’t even think about it.
Do you see what I mean about being the sensible one?
Finally, my mother says, “All right, Mountain Girl. We’re going to explain how we figure our money. You be the bookkeeper tonight.”
She hands us each a pencil and some yellow paper.
She gives some to my little brother, too, though he’ll just sit there pretending to write when we write, or he’ll draw people dancing up in the sky.
And by the way, my name’s not really Mountain Girl.
They call me that because I was born in a cabin on the side of a mountain where they were looking for gold one summertime in Arizona.
They say it was the most magical place, the most beautiful mountain they ever climbed.
Maybe it was, but you know how those two exaggerate.
Anyway, they wanted my first sight to be that mountainside, so they held me up outdoors at sunrise when I was just about eight minutes old.
The truth is, I still like sunrise quite a lot.
And my little brother… They call him Ocean Boy. They say since I already had the best mountain for my first sight, they thought they ought to find the most beautiful ocean for him. I think they went all over Mexico looking for a place where ocean touches jungle. And they had to find a certain kind of purple-blue night sky and the exact green waves they like.
They held him up to see those waves for his first sight.
Someday we’re all going back to his green ocean and my high mountain. But for now (even though they claim to be so rich) they can’t take us anywhere at all.
No wonder I had to call this meeting about money.
Can you believe my father is sitting here looking me straight in the eye and saying, “But, Mountain Girl, I thought you knew how rich we are.”
I say, “We can’t get very far in this discussion if you won’t even admit that we’re poor.”
“I’ll prove it to you right now,” he says. “Let’s make a list of the money we earn in a year.”
“How much is that?” I ask. “I’ll write it down.”
But he says, “Not so fast. We have a lot of things to think about before we add them up.”
“What kinds of things?”
My mother says, “We don’t just take our pay in cash, you know. We have a special plan so we get paid in sunsets, too, and in having time to hike around the canyons and look for eagle nests.”
But I say, “Can’t you give me one single number to write down on this paper?”
So we start with twenty thousand dollars.
That’s how much my father says it’s worth to him to work outdoors, where he can see sky all day and feel the wind and smell rain an hour before it’s really raining.
He says it’s worth that much to be where (if he feels like singing) he can sing out loud and no one will mind.
I have just written twenty thousand when my mother says, “You’d better make that thirty thousand because it’s worth at least another ten to hear coyotes howling back in the hills.”
So I write thirty thousand.
Then she remembers that they like to see long distances and faraway mountains that change color about ten times a day.
“That’s worth another five thousand dollars to me,” she says.
I’m not surprised because my mother claims to be an expert on mountain shadows in the desert. She says she can tell time by the way those colors change from dawn to dark.
I scratch out what I had and write thirty-five thousand dollars.
My father thinks of something else. “When a cactus blooms, you should be there to watch it because it might be a color you won’t see again any other day of your life. How much would you say that color is worth?”
“Fifty cents?” my brother asks.
But they decide on another five thousand.
So now I write forty thousand dollars.
But I’d forgotten how much my father likes to make bird sounds. He can copy any bird, but he’s best at white-winged doves and ravens and red-tailed hawks and quail. He’s good at eagles, too, and great horned owls. So, of course, he has to add another ten thousand for having both day birds and night birds around us.
I cross out what I had and I write fifty thousand dollars.
Now my mother says, “Let’s see what our Mountain Girl is worth to us.”
I’m beginning to catch on to their kind of thinking, so I suggest I’m worth ten thousand dollars even though my little brother has begun to laugh.
“Don’t underestimate yourself,” my father says. “Remember all those good lists you make for us.”
He’s right. I do. I made a list of the best books each one of us has read and a list of all the ones we want to read again. I also made a list of all the animals each one of us has seen and the ones we still most want to see out in the wild—not in a zoo.
Mine is a mountain lion. I’ve dreamed of him four times, and I’ve already seen his track. My father chose a grizzly bear. My mother wants to see a wolf and hear it call. And my brother can’t decide between a dolphin and a whale. I remember every one because I make the lists.
They end up deciding I’m worth about a million dollars.
I say I don’t think I am, but I write it anyway.
In fact, it turns out that every one of us is worth a million.
So we have four million and fifty thousand dollars.
Then I realize I want to add five thousand dollars myself for the pleasure I have wandering in open country, alone, free as a lizard, not following trails, not having a plan, just turning whatever way the wind turns me.
They say that’s certainly worth five thousand.
So that makes four million and fifty-five thousand dollars.
Finally, my brother says to put down seven dollars more for all the nights we get to sleep outside under the stars.
We all say seven dollars doesn’t seem to be enough. We talk him into making it five thousand.
Now my paper says four million and sixty thousand dollars —and we haven’t even started counting actual cash.
To tell the truth, the cash part doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
I suggest it shouldn’t even be on a list of our kind of riches.
So the meeting is over.
The rest of them have gone outside to see the new sliver of moon. But I’m still sitting here at our nice homemade kitchen table with one cookie left on my mother’s good blue-flowered plate, and I’m writing this book about us.
I kind of pat the table and I’m glad it’s ours.
In fact, I think the title of my book is going to be The Table Where Rich People Sit.
Byrd Baylor
The Table Where Rich People Sit
New York , Aladdin Paperbacks, 1998

The Lure of Summer Garden

I just got back from Langkawi – another trip where we met with clients. It’s always delightful to be in Langkawi where the air really is fresher. But this post is about a restaurant/cafe called Summer Garden which I had wanted to write about yonks ago.

Summer Garden in Tanjung Bungah Penang
Summer Garden in Tanjung Bungah Penang

I was introduced to Summer Garden in Tanjung Bungah by Albert who lives in London! I know! The bloody irony!
But sometimes it takes a non-native person to uncover some rather native goodies!
To cut a long story short, I’ve been to this cosy place a few times now.
The last time I was there, I went with my cousins and sister. Once in a while I like just being girly and basking in girl company. And we take every opportunity to try food (Penang is really a foodie’s haven and we’re spoilt for choice every corner we turn).
The thing with most restaurants is this – if it’s Western, it’s all about steaks and ribs. If it’s Japanese, it’s all about bento sets and sushi and okonomiyaki. If it’s Chinese/Taiwanese, it’s all about rice and noodles. And it’s tough to choose where to eat when you’re with a bunch of people with varied taste buds.
Good portions from the bento selection
Good portions from the bento selection

But go to Summer Garden and you will solve this “what to eat and how to satisfy everyone” with ease. They serve pretty much good food and they do great western dishes (ribs, steak, lamb chop etc), amazing value-for-money bento sets and they even have local dishes like nasi lemak for those who cannot live without a dose of rice. And their desserts – I tried their white toblerone cake and it was yummy!
Lusciously rich white toblerone cake
Lusciously rich white toblerone cake

Drink-wise, they have a sizeable selection of casual juices, iced lattes, beer, lager and wine too. Even flower teas if you so wish to be dainty. (They have a bar too.) Basically it’s a place you can come with your kids, your extended family, or with a date/sweet valentine. It’s wholesome food at reasonable prices.
A huge cheesy portion of quiche lorraine
A huge cheesy portion of quiche lorraine

I won’t go into the details of Summer Garden’s food selection because you can probably google and find reviews of their food. I’m an ambience person and I love their ambience. It must all those plants and ‘weeping wall’ of water and lighting. Parking isn’t difficult as it is in the compound (this is after all a corner lot house). I have been there for lunch and dinner and the afternoons are still lovely and cool.
A great place to slowly enjoy a good meal with friends!
(For more photos of Summer Garden, check out my Facebook album…..)