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?

Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Almost Final

After such a wonderful foot massage the night before, I woke up with more energy than the day before! While today would be the day we would leave Hatyai, we had planned for more shopping.

Everyone knows this Hatyai market!
Everyone knows this Hatyai market!

But first, we needed to fill our tummies. The hotel provided free breakfast but the breakfast spread at Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel was nothing to blog about. It was just food to keep one’s tummy from growling. The spread wasn’t extensive and it was hard getting a spoon or even a fork! The guests of the hotel swamped the breakfast area so it was like a free-for-all.
Beautiful Thai crockery
Beautiful Thai crockery

We’d planned to go to the Sunday market to buy edibles. Hatyai is famous for many edibles – fish maw, cashew nuts, dried scallops, dried oysters, Koh Kae brand of flavoured peanuts, seaweed snacks and more. Even the not-so-edible stuff is famous such as Zebra brand stainless steel pots, steamers and such. And then there are the leather and non-leather bags, purses, pouches in addition to clothes and shoes.
Fruits too are aplenty but my Thai aunt told me to be wary of such fruits. Thais, whether knowingly or not, use additives and preservatives to ensure their fruits last longer and look better. At one time, no one bought longans from Thailand because the longan farmers oversprayed their fruit with chemicals! I don’t know if it is ignorance but it is better to be safe.
One of those common sweet snacks you can find is the dodol or durian sweets. They’re chewy and sweet. Great as gifts but really, how many can you eat in one sitting? I’d rather have the real thing!
Pandan flavour and natural flavour durian dodol
Pandan flavour and natural flavour durian dodol

Anyway, Cecilia had popped into a crockery shop to check the price of a steamer she wanted to buy. Saw this cute little pug! I wonder if he is for sale!
Saw this cute pug in a shop selling stainless steelware
Saw this cute pug in a shop selling stainless steelware

The market is the must-go place in Hatyai. It’s typically like our markets in Malaysia except that this one has both food, clothes, bags and shoes. It’s the kind of place you want to go and poke about just because it is so damn interesting. Thai markets are treasure troves. Like I said, most stuff are cheap and kitschy and full of bling. Quality-wise you’d be better off buying elsewhere BUT if you are eyeing food, they do have good things on offer. Why is it that Thais produce better foodstuffs than us? Food like glutionous rice, agar agar powder, even fresh mee and kueh tiaw! I mean you don’t have to look far to know that Thai rice is absolutely fragrant and delicious, even on its own.
This is dried fish maw
This is dried fish maw

Dried seafood is apparently THE thing to buy in this market and its surrounding shops (which do such brisk business that even if you run out of Thai currency, they’d happily take your Malaysian Ringgit). One particular shop directly opposite the market looks like a jewellery store, all painted in yellow with bright yellow lights. But it sells dried seafood like fish maw, scallops and oysters. And it is BUSY!
Everything seems bigger here - look at these dried mushrooms!
Everything seems bigger here - look at these dried mushrooms!

So yes, Hatyai is a tempting little town with lots to buy. For Penangites, it’s a weekend escape for the whole family. Food is perceived to be cheaper and far more delicious, especially Thai tom yam and those “muu” or pork dishes. Hatyai doesn’t make a dent in your pocket and it’s not so far away that you cannot feel at home. Plus the enterprising Thais speak Mandarin and Hokkien fluently these days, apart from Teochew so you won’t even have to learn Thai.
What more can you ask for, in a weekend getaway for shopping-mad Malaysians?
All the edibles you can buy in this Hatyai market
All the edibles you can buy in this Hatyai market