What I'm Growing In My Garden

I’m quite pleased that my garden (little though it may be) is growing quite well, thanks to the rich compost I make. (In case you want to make some compost of your own, you can read about the composting method, that a very gungho couple from Bukit Mertajam taught me.)
It’s been a little more than a year since I started to use compost for my own plants and herbs and I can tell you, there is a BIG (pardon the pun) difference with regular soil. Compost is full of nutrients and plants love it!
Here are some photos I took just this morning – I’m already in the Chinese New Year mood so I decided to take it easy and show you what I like to do when I am not busy with website design projects or doing business writing or networking or going out.
Besides cooking which I love (I think I like experimenting with food), I enjoy pottering about the garden, watching my plants grow. It’s quite fulfilling to see something growing from a seed – and I have had much success growing plants from seeds or cuttings (thankfully). I do know some people who can’t seem to grow anything or rear anything. Unlike Midas with his golden touch, certain people have poisonous touches, killing plants with their vibes.
At the moment, I’m satisfied that my little roselle sapling (is it a sapling or a baby plant) actually has roselle fruit! Look at the photo below. It is about 4 inches tall but it is mighty cute with a single roselle bud. I grew this from seeds which I saved after I made roselle syrup. Roselle is one of those plants which need a lot more publicity because it can be grown in Malaysia and it is full of vitamins and tastes better than the sugary-rich Ribena.
roselle plant, roselle fruit
The next plant or sapling which I am quite pleased with are my markisa plants (also grown from seeds, after I ate most of the markisa or passionfruit which I so adore). Nic isn’t too keen on passionfruit as it’s a tart fruit.
I figured I could grow the fruits I like to eat so this was one of those experiments. Passionfruit seems to be making a comeback now as I see lots of fresh passionfruits sold in the Lip Sin market. The flowers of this fruit tree are gorgeous, I am told, and a little research online confirms this. However this passionfruit is a climber vine sort so I have yet to find out how to let the little ones climb and where! I cannot wait when it fruits!
markisa, passion fruit,
The next plant which I really love is pokok kemuning. For the longest time I didn’t know what it was called because Nic calls it by its Mandarin name “chit lee xiang” (roughly translated, “seven mile fragrance”). But a search and some garden blog scrutinising later and I found out it is called Murraya Paniculata.
Like most plants with nondescript tiny white flowers, it needs an added ‘feature’ to get the bees and butterflies excited (and come over and help them pollinate!). That is why Murraya Paniculata has an enticing fragrance, one so heady I swoon (in a good way of course).

Murraya paniculata, pokok kemuning
Murraya paniculata is a sun-loving shrub and grows well in pots or in the ground

The tiny white flowers are five-petaled, with each petal curved back. Their fragrance gets released as the days grow into nights and I can tell you, it’s an unbelievable aroma, coming from smallish white flowers like the kemuning.
When I was in HK last year, one particular white flower caught my ‘nose’ too. The osmanthus plants I saw grew in the HK Botanical Garden – the plants were grown around the bird cages where their delicate aroma masked the stink of the birds. I thought this was a splendid idea. When I came back, I was dismayed to know that our tropical weather did not bode well for the temperate osmanthus. Luckily I got to know about the Murraya and it is as good as the osmanthus! The Murraya can be grown as hedges, in the ground, or in pots (like what we’ve done). It loves the sun so anywhere which gets the sun is good place to position your dark-green plant.
By the way, the city of Gui Lin in China is named after the osmanthus. In Mandarin, the osmanthus is called “gui hwa”. Osmanthus flowers are also used in TCM; its dried flowers are steeped as a tea. I have seen dried osmanthus flowers sold by local herbalists to promote beautiful skin.
Here’s a photo of the fruit of the Murraya. The fruits are oval-shaped green berries when unripe but become attractively orange when they ripen. As with all plants, they entice birds to come eat their berries and help spread the murraya seeds far and wide. My mom-in-law grows saplings easily from these seeds back in Kuching. You can do the same too by plucking the ripened berries and putting them into separate pots to help them grow.
Murraya paniculata berries or kemuning fruits
Ripe Murraya paniculata berries which can easily grow if planted

Since this post is quite long, come back for the next post of what else I’m growing in my garden and why!
Do you have a garden? What do YOU grow in your garden? It doesn’t have to be a garden at all. When I was in my old apartment, all I had was a tiny balcony. Even so, I had pots and pots of plants. I believe all of us derive great pleasure from seeing things grow and progress. Plants are one of the easiest and when they grow well, we get the added benefit of seeing their flowers or inhaling their fragrance.
So tell me, what are you growing right now?

Little India Walkabout

After a dinner of frog leg porridge in Chinatown with my sis and her Penang friends (there’s a whole bunch of Penang people in Singapore – I told my sis to set up her own Penang Club even), Nic and I decided to drop by Singapore’s Little India for a quick look-see.

The good thing about Singapore is, not many cars on the road!
The good thing about Singapore is, not many cars on the road!

After all, visiting Little India in Penang is my favourite pastime, besides eating banana leaf rice at Sri Ananda Bhawan’s. I wanted to see how similar things are down south, particularly as it was nearing Deepavali then. Singapore’s Little India would be bustling!

Was I right! The streets were decked out with gorgeous lights and a sense of gaiety punctuated the air. Although it was almost 10, the streets were still crowded.

Some Indian vendors were just in the midst of arranging their vegetables – oddly people were buying carrots and tomatoes at night. I guessed these people were very busy indeed and could only come out at night to shop for their food.
Night shopping!
Night shopping!

Within a specific bazaar place set up for this Indian community, we gawked at the trinkets and decorations, the bells and the incense, the biscuits and the prayer items.
Finally after walking about, I felt a little smug. This Little India, while clean and not very noisy, couldn’t really compare to our Penang version.

Ours is noisier, busier and an assault to all your senses. Loud music, smell of burning incense, people talking loudly – all these make our Penang an undisputed winner in the cacophony department.

With that, we were ready to stop for a cup of masala chai at one of the Indian shops.
Masala chai's such a comfort after a long day
Masala chai's such a comfort after a long day

One clear similarity was that the sweetmeats were still the same garishly pink and green!
All sorts of sweetmeats for your sweet tooth!
All sorts of sweetmeats for your sweet tooth!

Loi Ah Koon…Modernized

When I was visiting my sis in Singapore last October, we were of course feted.
I mean, Singaporeans are just as proud of their food culture as we are. We’re so similar in many ways. And to add to this, I met up with so many Malaysians (not to mention a whole group of Penang folks, thanks to my sis). Like all good hosts, food was definitely the order of the day.
As we stayed for a few days in the pleasant suburb of Tiong Bahru (actually come to think of it, which suburb isn’t properly planned and pleasant by Singapore standards? It better be nice or else the complaints will rain!), we particularly enjoyed having breakfast at Ya Kun, just a 5-minute walk away from her apartment.

Ya Kun's the place for breakfast
Ya Kun's the place for breakfast

Ya Kun is the modern version of the old-style kopi tiam – something like our Old Town Cafe. It serves half-boiled eggs with kaya toast. Small yet cosy (but with airconditioning), Ya Kun is really an old establishment, started yonks ago by a Hainanese man named Loi Ah Koon – the picture of the founder in the typical white cotton shirt is on the wall.
Probably Ah Koon would never have thought his old-style Hainanese coffee (made the same way since 1944) would be transformed into a modern coffee and breakfast place. Ya Kun is an upgraded version of the old days.  Ya Kun has personality too – there’s an indelible pride in the Hainanese coffee culture with a very Asian twist too.
How Loi Ah Kun started his Hainanese coffee stall
How Loi Ah Kun started his Hainanese coffee stall

Ya Kun is creatively funny – I liked most their cheeky and clever posters on the wall. It made me chuckle!
One said “Screw the French press – we’ve got the sock”. Another said “Want a skinny latte? Stop at half a cup!”
Love these posters!
Love these posters!

Like Andrew Sia’s article in The Sunday Star a few weeks ago, I find that we Asians have a lot to be proud of.
Slowly but surely we are realizing we are living in an area steeped in fantastic culture. That’s the reason why Ang Mohs are here.  While I love blue cheese, there’s nothing compared to durian. While I may enjoy going elsewhere for a while and wishing for spring weather all the time, there’s really nothing like rain which seeps into your bra and sun so strong it makes your skin freckle. Or the familiar smells of street food. One can never go hungry in Malaysia – there’s some food stall on some corner open at some ungodly hour.
Other than Ya Kun, there’s another famous breakfast place called Toast Box. Some who have eaten at Toast Box say it’s nothing special though people have been seen lining up for the food. But then again, every place we go to seem to have lots of Singaporeans especially cafes and restaurants.
What is lovely though is that customer service is taken very seriously in the island republic. You do get service with a smile, unlike some cranky waiters and waitresses in most restaurants in Malaysia. And if you complain, someone somewhere will respond to you. Here we’d be lucky if they even bother to open their emails!
I wouldn’t want to live in Singapore – but visiting for a few days and eating my way through the island is indeed fun!

Full of Beans

I was in Langkawi last week – it was a very quick trip to visit a client. At the same time it was also a meet up and discussion about a marketing project we are doing with another client.
As we were visiting a client who just had leg surgery, I was wondering what I could bring. Fruits was out of the question – I was not going to carry fruits onto the AirAsia flight (as an aside, I was on the same flight to Langkawi as celebrity chef, Chef Wan!).
Finally I settled on a very healthy gift – a packet of nutritious cereal powder from my favourite Buddhist society – Tzu Chi.

The green packet on the right contains Jew's Mallow.
The green packet on the right contains Jew's Mallow.

I’ve always been in awe of Tzu Chi because they’re a charity organization like no other. Instead of asking for handouts, they prefer to engage in honest business to help them fund their work. Their dialysis treatments for kidney patients are completely free. Amazing.
Nic and I decided to go to their Macalister Road building to get the nutritious bean powder. (You can also buy them from the Jing Si Book shop on Beach Street which is a lovely serene cafe with Buddhist books for sale. However, I prefer their Macalister Road outlet which is actually a huge grey building – you can’t miss this. Plus like everything else in Penang, parking is important. In this place, parking is very convenient. No doubt about it.)
Everything that's good for you is inside this beverage.
Everything that's good for you is inside this beverage.

The interesting part is, the ingredients for their products are mostly grown by themselves in Taiwan. Taiwan is the headquarters of Tzu Chi Merit Society – this is where they started some 40 years ago with just 1 nun (Master Cheng Yen) and 30 housewives. Today, Tzu Chi is a global phenomenon with a task force of volunteers all over the globe, ready to serve at any moment’s notice. Their dedication is truly incredible.
Tzu Chi sells about 4 different types of instant bean drinks
Tzu Chi sells about 4 different types of instant bean drinks

The bean powders are purely vegan and consists of ingredients like Job’s tears, almonds, Chinese yam, oats, sesame seeds, lotus seeds, black beans, brown rice and more. The bean cereal powder are suitable for both young and old and a good replacement for sugared beverages. I also discovered a plant called Jew’s Mallow when I bought one of the bean beverages which contain Jew’s Mallow which is cultivated in Taiwan by their master and her disciples.  Jew’s Mallow is also called Kerria Japonica – a yellow flowering shrub with leaves used as a vegetable.
While I was there buying these bean powder beverages for family and friends (and you know how suddenly one thinks of everyone who could and would benefit from this healthy beverage), the Tzu Chi volunteer asks if I’d like to try their instant noodles. She said their noodles were often in high demand and taste great, without the MSG! I am not a noodle fan so I politely declined.
They also sell a quick version of rice gruel or instant porridge where you just add hot water and presto, your porridge is ready. I heard that this was an innovation of theirs especially when Tzu Chi serves in disaster areas – easily cooked or hot food makes a big difference to disaster survivors. Even their rice is of this instant version – just add hot water and you get rice immediately.
What I especially like about Tzu Chi products is that they’re made with the Earth in mind. Their packaging is recyclable. And their design is simple yet elegant. None of the Jinjang designs – no way. Like their founder, Tzu Chi volunteers live a simple, practical lifestyle and often are serene, calm people. The entire Tzu Chi organisation lives and breathes simplicity and practicality.
And if I have a choice when buying responsibly, I will. In this case, you are not only buying a healthy bean beverage for yourself but also supporting an organization which does good.