Once in a while, I get this sweet tooth craving. Which is weird because I usually prefer salty snacks to desserts. Think murukku, salted peanuts, roasted cashews and the like.
But when I get into that mood, I go into the kitchen and whip up a cake or sometimes two. I figure that if I am firing up the oven, I might as well batch bake some yummies.
Since it’s only me and Nic and eating an entire cake is out of the question, I usually freeze half the baked cake. Cakes freeze well without any loss in taste or texture. I learnt this from some American blogs I read. They freeze everything – raw cookie dough to stews and more.
Anyway, last night I got into this cheese mood. I dug around my fridge and realised I had some mascarpone and some cream cheese. It was either tiramisu or a cheesecake.
I decided to make a cheesecake since I was dying for some creamy dessert. I usually bake after dinner so it was by 10pm or so that I started pulling out my springform pan.
The funny thing is this: I have always eaten great cheesecakes but never baked any until the last 2 years. No, I am not kidding. My aunt bakes a mean cheesecake with canned peaches. My sis bakes delicious blueberry cheese tarts.
My springform pan sat in my cabinet for a long time before I decided one day to just test out some cheesecake recipes. I guess I was inspired by a good friend’s cheesecake which she brought to a potluck party some time ago. I loved the creamy goodness of it all and gobbled a good many slices!
I love this recipe because I just need my measuring cups and my good old electric mixer (I still have my Elba handheld mixer – I want to get a stand mixer but I simply have no space in my kitchen for yet another kitchen appliance).
Actually a cheesecake is easy and quick to make. Let your cream cheese sit at room temperature for 1 hour before you start so the cheese is soft. I’d adjust the sugar and condensed milk quantities if you prefer it to be less sweet.
I used my own homemade vanilla extract (just slice up 2 vanilla pods, stick them in a glass bottle and pour in enough good quality vodka to cover the pods and let this sit in some dark cabinet for 4 weeks or so. You’ve just made your own vanilla extract. You’d NEVER buy the commercial stuff ever again, I swear). As you can see, I like homemade stuff (yogurt, for instance).
OK, enough blabbering.
Here’s the recipe. For the baking part, pre-heat your oven at 150C as you prepare the cake.
Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Recipe
1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 tbsp white sugar (use brown sugar if you prefer less sweet)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Van Houten brand)
1/3 cup melted butter
Mix all the above and press into a 9 inch diameter springform pan. Leave aside.
250 gm cream cheese, at room temperature
400 ml condensed milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp flour
1. Beat cream cheese with mixer until smooth. Gradually add condensed milk.
2. Add vanilla extract and eggs. Beat on medium speed till smooth.
3. Toss 1/3 of chocolate chips with flour. Pour this into cheese mix.
4. Pour mix into the cheesecake base. Sprinkle the rest of the chocolate chips on top.
5. Bake at 150C for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave cake to cool in oven for another hour.
Have a go at this recipe and let me know how it goes.
(But if you’re simply too buggered to bake a cheesecake, get some darn delicious slices from Moody Cow if you’re in Penang. Their salted egg yolk cheesecake is to die for. Parking is a terrible thing on Transfer Road so it’s best to go with a friend and you can hop into the shop and get your cheesecake fix.)
Next round, I’ll share my tiramisu recipe.
May was an interesting month for me because I was asked to speak at 2 events. The first event was a forum where I was a panellist speaking on women entrepreneurship (will share about that in another post) while the second was a little less formal, where I spoke on the importance of marketing oneself.
The Incitement is made up of a bunch of young people – I say young because comparatively I feel so much older in their midst! They’re in their mid-20s with lots of passion and fervour for life.
I like their spirit. I like their concept for an event where 3 speakers each speak on something that aligns with the theme of the month. At the end of it, we all hang out and discuss ideas.
I decided to speak on marketing because I have been involved in marketing for a while now. Back then I didn’t know what I did was marketing.
I wished someone told me back then that it was important (far more important than everything else) to learn and cultivate a mindset of marketing. I learnt it my way, from observation, from starting my own women entrepreneur association, from talking to my clients, from reading business and marketing books.
I learnt it slowly, making the connections in my own way. I am that kind of learner. I need to stuff all the data into my brain, let it percolate and one day, I am all the wiser. I know. It’s like my brain needs its own time and space. I can’t hurry it.
The thing is, along the way I became a super connector.
I don’t know how it occurred but my own shyness helped. I started becoming the host, the event organiser, the go-to person.
Friends started saying things like, “You need anything, you go to Krista cos she seems to know everyone in Penang!”
(When I was 8 years old, I was already willing to help out my fellow classmates especially when it came to homework! My mum often chided me that my friend, A, should learn how to do her own homework than phone me and ask for the answers! I know. I was too kind for my own good.)
I make it my personal goal to know people and to be helpful and to find the goodness in everyone. That’s what marketing is to me. And it has helped me tremendously in getting known, being known and more.
So in my talk, I want to spread the message that the art of marketing is simply the art of un-marketing oneself.
When you’re not focusing on you, your own business, the products you want to sell, your own selfish motives, you stand out. You’re different, unique, special. Most people just want to sell you their stuff, without caring about what YOU want. That’s why marketing is always a game of shoving your stuff down someone’s throat.
That’s why most people proclaim to hate marketing. They think it’s sleazy, sale-sy and gives out connotations of snake oil sales men and such.
I think it’s tragic. It’s tragic because once you learn how to un-market yourself, you become a better marketer!
Below is the talk I presented at The Incitement Penang at Hin Bus Depot, an art gallery on Jalan Gurdwara (opposite Neo Hotel).
If your goal is to get ahead in your life and career, you must learn to market yourself.
When you market yourself authentically, you will be known, liked and trusted by friends and family.
You will be on the receiving end of opportunities of all kinds because friends and family will happily refer you, connect you to interesting people and projects. Most of all, people will be at hand to help you succeed.
But here’s what marketing yourself isn’t. Marketing yourself isn’t about being a boastful, annoying, irritating pest. It isn’t about you talking about yourself on and on at parties and boring half the room. It isn’t about you and what you do or have or accomplished. In fact, the power and the art of marketing yourself isn’t at all about you! Strange right?
By the way, I am sure you know someone like that. Someone whom no one wants to talk to because he or she is always talking about herself! They think they’re having a dialogue when in fact they are having a monologue!
So you must be thinking – if marketing myself isn’t about me, what is it then and more importantly, how do I do it if I want improve myself and be more successful?
I learnt how to market myself by not marketing myself. You see, I was a shy girl growing up in a small town in Selangor called Banting.
What I am going to share with you today comes from my personal experience over the years. Looking at me now, you wouldn’t think I’m shy. But I have learnt over the years how to market myself.
Marketing myself has opened doors like never before. For instance, I’ve met lots of interesting people. I have wonderful friends and amazing clients. I have contacts from eclectic, diverse backgrounds. I learn new things from all my contacts and I get help from them when I need help. When I organise events, I am never short of sponsors or helpers. When I send out emails, people pay attention and read them. When you go online, you can google my name and find out a lot about me. When I need help, friends rally around to help me.
Is this because I am extraordinary or special?
No. It’s because a long time ago, I learnt how to use my shyness to work in my favour. And I am going to share 3 important tips with you. I hope you will take this to heart because if you practise just 3 tips in your life, you will have all the people, resources and ideas you need.
The first tip is to be memorable. Being memorable gets easier if you start by remembering others! Whenever you meet someone, make an effort to remember their name. There is nothing sweeter to another person than the sound of their own name! The next time you meet them again, start by calling out their name. Plus learn how to spell people’s names. Nothing is more annoying that acquaintances who misspell your name!
For a lot of people, meeting people is all good and wonderful but nothing happens beyond that. When I say memorable, not only do you remember the person and details about him or her, but you’d also want to be memorable to that person.
When you remember them, they start to remember you! It’s odd but it works!
Here’s a story. As the co-founder of WomenBizSENSE, a women entrepreneur association, we hold monthly meetings where networking plays a big role. Our members attend so that they can meet new friends or potential business contacts.
But I have also observed that most people go for quantity. You can’t remember everyone you’ve met if you’ve just said hi and bye to 20 people.
I advocate going for quality contacts. When you go for quality contacts, you will meet fewer people and exchange fewer business cards but you will have a chance to know someone better. When you know someone well, you have made a connection.
But most people leave it at that. They go to a networking event, collect a couple of business cards and absolutely forget about the people they’ve met.
No one has ever told us what to do with the contacts we’ve met at a networking group.
Let me share with you an invaluable strategy. Whenever you meet someone, ask if they’re on Facebook or LinkedIn. If they are, add them as friends.
Continue that conversation online. That’s what social media is for.
From time to time, be useful. Email them to say hello. Email them helpful articles. Don’t spam them. Above all be the friend that everyone wants to have.
The second tip is to be mindful. Being mindful is about paying attention. It is about paying attention to your surroundings, the people and being present in all your senses.
Why is this important in marketing yourself? It helps you notice little things that most people gloss over. It helps you to be more present when another person is speaking. When you are more present, you listen and absorb.
There is nothing like the gift of attention in today’s attention-starved world.
When you are present, you look people in the eye and give them your full attention. People notice little things like this. The give of attention that you give to another person, just by being fully present, makes you a star, whether it is at work or in business.
The third tip is to be a matchmaker. I learnt how to be a matchmaker precisely because I was so utterly shy. I remember in my early years of networking, I’d feel so out of place walking into a roomful of strangers. I didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know the right questions to ask and I didn’t want to feel like I was butting into someone’s conversation.
But I am a huge fan of learning. Whatever I don’t know, I know somehow somewhere out there, there is a book for it. And the book I found was this book by Leil Lowndes called How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships.
It’s an amazing book which you can learn how to ask the right questions at events and parties.
But one tip which she gave and which I love is this: imagine you have a spotlight on your chest. When you meet someone, shine that spotlight on him or her. This means encouraging the other person to talk about what they do and all that good stuff.
I’ve taken it one step further. If you’re the host of the event, you must play matchmaker.
You scan the room and look out for that lonely guy or gal sitting in a corner, feeling all self-conscious and shy. They don’t know anyone and they don’t know how to start.
You go up to them and introduce yourself and then, you tell them, “Come and let me introduce you to this friend of mine.” No one says no to such an invitation.
You slowly bring this shy person to another person and introduce them. If you know enough about the other person, add in some details. Say things such as “Oh Elisabeth here has 2 young children just like you.” This gives them a sense of shared familiarity. They now have a common topic to start with.
Do enough of this and you will soon be well-known. You become the hostess with the mostest at events. In fact, if you know enough people and your social circle is large enough, you can play matchmaker at events that aren’t even your own! I’ve done this at events where I’ve connected friends from different industries together.
What I’ve shared with you is my personal 3M’s of self-marketing. I want to share one more – I consider it my 4th and most powerful M.
The 4th M stands for magnanimous. It comes from the Latin word – magnus which means great and animus which means soul. Put together it means great soul but to make it simple, it means being generous.
Being generous is what we all strive towards. We want to be kind, compassionate, benevolent, charitable, bountiful and big-hearted. If you want to be someone generous, start sharing and giving unconditionally.
This could mean passing along a helpful email or surprising people in good ways just because you can. This is the ultimate in being a star in selling yourself.
Everyone loves a generous soul. Don’t expect anything in return. If you expect something in return, you end up being calculative and motive-driven. And you become a grouch!
When people know they can count on you without you having an ulterior motive, they will happily refer you, recommend you and help you. Good karma begets good karma.
You didn’t need me to tell you that you should be memorable and mindful in order to stand out in your industry.
You didn’t need me to tell you that your job is to be a matchmaker at events you go to.
In fact you probably know all this by heart. I am just here to remind you that these are some of the important things in life that we all should remember if we want to live up to our highest potential.
All this is easy. What’s hard is this – implementation.
It’s easy to listen and nod but it’s really hard to put it into practice because we’re busy, we’re humans, we’re forgetful and we love doing easy things.
But nothing and no one gets very far in life without some form of doing.
Think of exercise. We know it’s good for us but sometimes it’s so easy to feel lazy about waking early for a morning jog. How about eating right? We know we should avoid fried chicken but it’s so easy to eat fried chicken, right? And so it goes.
But self-marketing is about having the discipline to put into practice what you’ve learnt.
It is only through practice that we all get better. I was a shy girl at 9 but I braved myself to join debates and speak publicly even though I was so scared inside. But to overcome our fear, we need to face it head on. When you face your monster head on, the monster shrivels and dies.
I’ve reminded you about some things and I hope I’ve ignited your interest.
So here are the questions only you have answers to:
How will you be memorable starting tonight?
How will you be mindful starting tonight?
How will you be a matchmaker starting tonight?
And finally, how will you be magnanimous, starting tonight?
P/S: Why do I speak? I speak to spread my ideas and message. Most of all, I speak to improve my presentation skills. The more I speak, the better I get. Who likes speaking especially public speaking? Everyone has jitters, even the most seasoned ones. But I like challenges – and I am quite the Type A sort and like a friend told me, I am the Tiger woman (born in the year of the Tiger). Tiger women are damn ambitious. Nothing wrong with wanting to challenge myself. I am my own best competition. And I love pushing my limits and seeing how far I can go. If you’re asked to speak, always say yes. It is an incredibly interesting experience!
I interviewed Mak Lan of Lidiana’s in Tanjung Bungah for the 8 March International Women’s Day exhibition.
This is the full interview which I wrote up as a feature story, well, for myself. I did journalism in USM but I never worked for any newspapers so in a way, this is my way of keeping my chops lean and working. Enjoy!
“I’ve been in this business for 36 years and I started due to poverty. Due to poverty, I will stand and work like the Chinese. And like the Chinese, I never give up.”
The interview with Kak Lall Bee binti Ibrahim starts this way. And despite my valiant attempts to speak to her in Malay, she smiles and says she can speak English. And so the rest of the interview happens in English, a language that she’s comfortable with.
“You know, there is this young Chinese boy who comes and talks to me every day. He is so amazed that a 60 plus year old Malay woman can speak English so well!” She laughs. Her eyes gleam impishly.
Kak Lall has come a long way from the days of being a divorcee with 3 children – 2 girls and a boy.
“It’s a different kind of feeling when you’re a divorcee. It’s different than being a widow.” Her eyes soften as she says this.
Today, she drives an SUV with the number plate PLA II. She cheekily remarks that the number plate spells “La ll” – her name.
It is far removed from the days she started with a tri-wheel push cart, selling her nasi campur, by candle light from 6am to 6pm everyday to ensure she had money for her siblings and her children.
And she had 16 siblings to feed. These were the two simple reasons that made her start her nasi campur business. And in the early days, it wasn’t the bustling stall with workers busy frying chicken or dishing out piping hot nasi tomato.
It was a simple push cart with some 10 dishes she’d cook with the help of her aunt. She’d set up her stall opposite the old Tanjung Bungah bus stand. She’d also sell by candle light.
“I borrowed RM100 from a chettiar to get my business started. Every month I’d pay him RM20 in interest. Back then, RM100 was a lot of money!” she exclaims. Pointing to the fried and sambal-stuffed, plump ikan terubok (one of her bestseller dishes), she said that when she started her business 36 years ago, ikan terubok was only 10 sen each. Nowadays fresh ikan terubok costs RM60 per kilo.
Kak Lall says she managed to pay back her chettiar loan in 4 months.
In the early 80s, it was rare to eat out. Tanjung Bungah was a quiet stretch, unlike today where it is peppered with hotels, apartments and restaurants. She often struggled to sell her dishes. Things improved considerably when the hotels started opening up, starting with the Rasa Sayang Hotel. Her customers comprised hotel employees as well as the Chinese who lived around the area.
Later she’d move to where the now “tsunami flats” were.
Back then, she’d open her stall from 6am to 6pm, making a meagre RM40 a day. She’d go to the wholesale market at midnight, buying fresh produce like fish and vegetables. She’d come home, sleep a few hours and wake up at 3am to prepare her dishes with her aunt’s help.
When the food court (where she is now based) was built and opened, she decided to rent a proper space at RM100 per month.
At this humble and nondescript Medan Selera, she recounted that her business in the first year was bad as her regular customers couldn’t find her.
Over time, they discovered her stall and business resumed its brisk pace. Until today, the majority of her customers are Chinese who live around the Tanjung Bungah area. Each Raya, she invites all her best Chinese customers to her open house to thank them for their support.
She has so many Chinese customers eating at her stall that many out of town people have asked if the stall was started by a Chinese.
Kak Lall laughs and believes that her dishes are of quality and with plenty of good variety. That’s the reason why her customers return again and again. Although she isn’t hands-on in the kitchen now (her daughter Nordiana has taken over from her mom), she still visits the stall every day to check on the quality of the food.
“My specialities are my kerabu, black chicken and fried terubok. You know, a few months ago, a TV crew from the UK came to film me making kerabu mempelam. Their chef wanted to learn how it’s done.” Kak Lall points at the black chicken, a dish of sticky, sweet and savoury chicken slow cooked for 5 hours. If the food is not cooked well, she sends the food back to the kitchen.
“I don’t know what to do if I retire! I am so used to being here, at my stall. If I don’t work, it’s hard to pass time!”
Lidiana has about 30 dishes and more laid out in typical nasi campur style. A good many were stir-fried vegetables and ulam (fresh basil, fresh mint, cucumbers). Her nasi campur stall now opens from 7am right till 9pm daily (except Sunday). Her employees start to prepare and cook at 4.30am in order to open for the breakfast crowd at 7am.
What is striking is that the dishes are cooked in small batches, ensuring as Kak Lall says, quality and freshness. As we talk, her employee (and this is quite interesting – her employees are all women) scoops up a batch of fried chicken from a hot kuali. Dishes are replenished quickly. Kak Lall tells me there is a particular Australian gentleman who buys and eats 8 pieces of this fried chicken from her stall daily!
Lidiana, the name of her business, comes from the names of her 2 daughters, Nordiana and Lidia. At the moment, the business is run by her daughter and her son-in-law. Her grandson, she says, is interested in the business. A lanky teen, he was seen discussing what to buy and how much with his grandmother, as a catering order from a Chinese customer comes in.
“Prawns are expensive these days but my Chinese customers still want to order prawns.” When I told her that Chinese love prawns for their symbolism, she nods.
Despite the rise in fresh ingredients, Lidiana’s has never raised its prices.
“You know how expensive red chillis are these days? But we still make our sambal belacan every day. We may not make as much money but it’s OK, give and take some. It’s nonsense when people say you can’t make money in the food business.”
Many of her KL and Johor customers have no problem hopping on a flight to Penang just to eat at Lidiana. As her food prices are reasonable, many of them would even tip her employees saying that they would never be able to get such good food at such prices in their own cities. Lidiana is packed during school holidays with customers lining up beyond the gate of the food court. On Fridays, Lidiana serves a special dish – nasi tomato and dalca.
I also note that she’s an astute business woman. As the food court gets unbearably warm during noon, Kak Lall invests in cooler fans and places these strategically at her stall so that her customers can eat comfortably.
She reveals that her mother was a good cook and her sisters also have their own food business in Tanjung Tokong and in town.
Lidiana also does catering and special side orders if advance time is given. Some dishes are not on the menu but can be ordered by special request such as crabs.
“I am thankful to God for good health, strength and determination,” Kak Lall says. She also says that the food business is a good business to run because of the cashflow.
She claims she had little education but upon probing, I found out that she had studied in Convent Pulau Tikus up to Form Three. Her eyes grow a bit misty as she talks about how race relations have gone badly. An elderly Chinese lady, clearly a customer, comes by and pats her back. Kak Lall seems fond of all her regulars, whispering to me that the lady was a widow of a rich towkay. She comes by regularly to eat at Lidiana.
“You should see my business on the first day of Chinese New Year,” Kak Lall says. All the Chinese patrons who grew up with her food would come with their families.
“Many people tell me, it’s hard and tiring running a food business. I say, how can you be tired? I was a one woman show when I started. I did the marketing and cooking and setting up stall. I had to drive to the wholesale market at midnight, and start cooking at 3am. It was like this, day in day out.”
“A woman can succeed because she has responsibilities. I’ve seen men who run food businesses. Once they get a bit of money, they tend to spend it all either on gambling or other activities. Over time they’ll spend all their money and then stop running the business.”
“In life, one must struggle against all odds, yet you have to be honest and live up to your own expectations.”
I ask her about travel. This feisty lady has travelled for her umrah, and happily recounted that she’s visited Israel, Turkey, Jordan and China. She thinks she wants to visit India and Syria. A moment later, she shakes her head, “Syria is too dangerous now to visit. Maybe India is better!”
As the fourth child in the family, she was considered one of the elder siblings. When her sisters were about to marry, she’d always help out with the marriage expenses, noting sensibly that a woman should never start her married life with debts!
In retrospect, Kak Lall’s determination seems to stem from her divorce.
At the end of our interview, she pauses a while, collecting her thoughts. Finally she says, “I want to advise divorced women that a divorce is not the end of the world. It is not the end of the world when your husband leaves you.”
Lidiana is at No. 5, Arked Tanjung Bunga, 11200 Tanjung Bunga, Penang. They open everyday, Monday to Saturday, 7am till 9pm (closed on Sunday). They do catering for private events too (please call Mak Lan’s daughter, Nordiana at 016 415 8686 for enquiries).