Chicken Poo Leaf & A Sassy Penang Nyonya

The thing about Penang is, I don’t know how I know the people I know but I can tell you it can be quite discomforting to know that people know me!
Convoluted? Not really.
Not when these people tell me that “Oh, I’ve been reading your blog for ages and now I know you’re the blogger!”
I don’t know if that’s good or not.
Because you know and I know that I write for myself mainly. I write because it keeps my writing chops lean and mean. It keeps me sane in the insane world of marketing and business and new projects and my women’s entrepreneur group and all that.

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Nothing Beats A Harvest

Did I tell you I have a pomegranate tree in my backyard?

pomegranate fruits
Ruby red pomegranate arils, fresh off the tree

It’s about 5 years old – a tree that I grew from some leftover pomegranate seeds from a huge pomegranate I bought at one of the fruit stalls at Lorong Kulit.
In the initial years, it was a spindly thing.
At that time, I was still living in my old apartment. Where the balcony was the only space for plants.
pomegranate fruits
They don't look very ripe but they are. How do you know when it's time to pluck the fruit? Look at its bottom. If it's brownish black, it's time to harvest.

But the sun never reached into the innermost corners of my balcony so the poor spindly thing was trying hard to grow.
I brought it over when I came to this new apartment, located on the ground floor.
I had a backyard. Hallelujah! (And I’m not even Christian).
So I planted the spindly thing in a larger pot, put heaps on compost on its roots, and left it in the open. With plenty of rain and sunshine.
And that thing grew and grew.
Pretty much like the beanstalk in Jack and the beanstalk fairy tale.
And the ugly duckling turned into a marvellous looking thing, with crimson flowers that eventually became pomegranates.
So there’s the story of why you should never give up on your plants.
Do you know how you can get the arils out nicely? Peel them in a basin of water.

It bore (and still bears) rose-coloured fruits about the size of a small apple.
Now I know why everyone wants to be a farmer on FarmVille. I don’t like playing the game or playing pretend farmer.
I like doing the real stuff – getting my hands dirty, get sad if my plants start wilting, getting triumphant when my plants flower and fruit.
Best of all, I love tasting and reaping the fruits of my labour.
pomegranate tree
My pomegranate tree is about 5 feet tall

I love it that my pomegranates (as well as my pandan, mint, curry leaves, serai, basil) are all organically grown. Safe for consumption.
I have this indescribable pleasure when I can go to my backyard and pluck a fruit off a tree and eat it!
That’s as natural as it gets.
No carbon footprint issues. No worries about fruit contaminated with chemicals. No worries about eating fake fruits (with China being such good copycats, it’s probably a matter of time when they do make fake fruits!).
No pesticide, no chemicals. Just good old soil, plenty of self-made compost, rain (or water) and sun. Nature supplies the bees, insects and butterflies to help with pollination.
I am now trying my hand at growing a few papaya trees and a tomato plant.
I think when I grow old, I shall buy a plot of land or at least get a house with a huge garden and plant all the fruit trees that I love. I often keep the seeds of fruits and vegetables that I eat, just in case one day I decide to sow the seeds.
close up of the pomegranate tree and fruit
A close up of the pomegranate tree and fruit

I think we all need a connection to the food we eat. Through gardening and planting, we somehow get that gratification. When I tuck into my pomegranate arils, I give thanks because I am so amazed that from just a few components (soil, water, etc.) we are able to enjoy a magnificent array of fruits. The very same ingredients that makes a durian makes a pomegranate.
I find that amazing.
But gardening also teaches me patience and that I am not a master of the universe.
Gardening teaches me that plants grow in their own time and with the seasons. You just can’t control or rush them. They flower in good time. They are unhurried.
Unlike us humans.
We want everything fast. (Isn’t that one reason why we complain about ugly holes in our sawi and then proceed to say, oh wow, why do farmers spray pesticides on vegetables?)
So what fruit trees have you grown? Or trying to grow? Do you grow or eat pomegranates? Would love to hear your gardening escapades too!

My Kerala Trip: Kuruva Isle

This was a post I wrote after I came back from our India trip in 2010 with the Paul Penders team. I didn’t get around to posting it up so here it is.
One of the places we visited was Kuruva Island which was 20 minutes away from VanaMoolika. This was our jaunt in the forest as we were going to an island to partake in nature.

Where's the island?
Where's the island?

The four Innova’s were again packed with all of us. I felt excited as we were told we were going to an island. Coming from an island like Penang, I had my ideas about islands. I also heard we had to pay an entry fee to get to the island.
Entry fee list for Kuruva Island
Entry fee list for Kuruva Island

When we got out of the MPVs, I was looking for a visible island. None that I could see! I could see paddy fields and a bit of a jungle path.
The thing in India is, one never really knows what’s happening. The drivers speak Malayalam so that’s alien to our ears. Finally we were told that the island could be seen after a few minutes walking. We all hung about waiting for things to get settled. While waiting, I saw an interesting tea shack near the fee collection booth. Made with all natural materials, it was a roughly put together shack – an Internet cafe! And this British motorcycle too! It’s truly antique stuff.
Seen outside the "Internet cafe" - a very old British motorbike
It was almost noon and getting fairly warm. After what seemed like eternity, we were herded down the path through the paddy fields. At that time of the year, the fields were emerald carpets! Not a soul to be seen though. It was just the bunch of us – a motley and noisy bunch!
Crossing the river in a bamboo raft to get to Kuruva Island
Crossing the river in a bamboo raft to get to Kuruva Island

After a few minutes of traipsing, we came out to a clearing which ended at a muddy river, the colour of ‘teh tarik’. Bamboo rafts were tied to the bank. These rafts were our transport over to the island which was about 100 meters away.
The raft journey barely took 10 minutes. Our raft man didn’t need to do much work except pull his way across the river – a thick rope was strung across the river and he just guided the raft across this way. I didn’t see any birds or fish during this river crossing. I thought we were looking for biodiversity! It was exceedingly quiet for an island teeming with nature.
Loaded up on the raft
Loaded up on the raft

After we got off the raft, we crossed a bamboo bridge and finally, we were on Kuruva Island!
After getting off the raft, we walked on a bamboo bridge
After getting off the raft, we walked on a bamboo bridge

Coming from Malaysia where our jungles are thick and humid, the walk on Kuruva Island wasn’t really a jungle experience. It was more of a thick forest than a jungle proper. What made it pleasant was the weather. It was not as humid as Malaysia so the leisurely walk didn’t drench us in sweat. We didn’t see any animals except a lone macaque and some butterflies. Notably missing too were bird calls and the incessant humming of the jungle (which is so prevalent in Malaysia).
Truth be told, we didn’t walk the entire length of the island so what we saw was possibly 20% of Kuruva. It was an interesting walk though despite not seeing any animals. Maybe I was expecting to see tiger tracks or wild boar tracks (we saw some wild boar poop though….). Maybe I watch too many National Geographic TV programmes!

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.

Wandering Jew For Tea

Recently I was given this plant when I went over to visit Mylene.

The wandering jew plant from Mylene - it's medicinal too!
The wandering jew plant from Mylene – it’s medicinal too!

It’s become a habit of ours to exchange plants and seeds. She often said that she wished most companies would give her a potted plant as a token of appreciation instead of the usual souvenirs like mugs and engraved plaques. I agree.
At least getting a plant means you get to take a life home.
She told me that this plant could help prevent ailments. Chief among those was cancer. Ooohhh.
I asked her the name of the plant but she didn’t know.
So me being the intrepid and curious sort decided to find out. I happened to have an old book on indoor plants (which I wrangled from my dad years ago – one never knows with parents. They have a propensity of throwing or giving old books away). So I looked it up and figured it’s called Wandering Jew.
The pleasure of living in the 21st century is that ANYTHING can be checked and confirmed online.
So I started browsing some websites and ended up confirming that yes, this is called an Inch Plant, a Wandering Jew plant and Tradescantia zebrina (its proper name).

Close up of the wandering jew plant
Close up of the wandering jew plant

It can be a house plant or grown outside as ground cover but further reading unearthed that if you do plant it as ground cover, beware that it might overtake the entire ground! Yes, this plant may look harmless but it is invasive.
Now I am more interested in this plant as a medicinal herb (yes, this is another addition to my herbal collection which I am growing).
In Chinese, this plant is called Shui Gui Cao (Water Turtle Grass).
Accordingly, it is useful when boiled as a herb tea and drunk to clear the kidneys and for kidney problems.
The first blog link above recommends using 200 gm of the Wandering Jew leaves to be boiled with 15 dried red dates and 12 slices of ginger in a pot of 1.5 liters of water. Simmer for 1.5 hours before adding brown sugar. This tea apparently helps remove toxins from your body.
Mylene said that her friend boils this plant and drinks it for health maintenance. For now, I am contented just having it grow on the balcony. Wait till it grow a little bit bigger before I pluck its leaves for a herbal tisane!
By the way, have you come across this plant?

The King of All Herbs

I have this strange satisfaction in eating the food that I grow.
When I was 10, I was already growing my own vegetable – no doubt it was a tiny patch right in front of our terrace house. It was a vegetable which to this day I call “slimy vegetable” because my mom used my harvest to make a soup with the green leafy vegetables. I don’t know what its scientific name is, till today. I do know that it produced tiny purple berries. If you squished the berries, the purple dye will stain your fingers.
I still enjoy growing herbs and vegetables because at the end of the day, I get to eat them!

Ulam Raja or Wild Cosmos
Ulam Raja or Wild Cosmos

Nic and I have a passion for ulams, especially ulam raja.
I am currently growing ulam raja (wild cosmos) in my backyard (also a tiny patch but what a lovely tiny patch I have). Ulam raja is an unforgettable taste. Its leaves are best eaten young and with a good dollop of kick-ass sambal belacan. Its flavour is a cross between lemon and mangga. The best way to know this is to take the fresh ulam raja and pop it in your mouth for a good chew.
This herb or ulam is quite beautiful too when it flowers. It grows easily from seeds (which you will get once the pink flowers die off) and you will always have fresh ulam to eat! Eating this ulam keeps you young (it has anti-ageing properties) and strengthens your bones (due to its high calcium content) and is a breath freshener.
Another ulam I have is one I do not know the name of! If you know the name of this ulam, please let me know. I got to know of this through my uncle. He’s a big fan of ulam with sambal belacan and he had a huge pot of this ulam in my grandma’s house compound. I plucked a few stems and propagated them successfully. This ulam has a different taste and texture compared to ulam raja.
Does anyone know the name of this ulam?
Does anyone know the name of this ulam?

Pegaga is also another ulam I grow in my backyard. I have 2 types – the round leaf variety (which you often see in ponds) and the market variety (sold in markets!). Pegaga is quite the miracle ulam, full of good stuff for your health. Nevertheless, do not over-indulge. It makes you woozy if you eat too much!
Pegaga growing with peppermint
Pegaga growing with peppermint

Below is a photo of the round pegaga which you can use as water plants for your aquarium (I use them in my aquarium anyway) and as food. Talk about versatility!
Pegaga - as ornamental plants, as food, as aquarium decoration
Pegaga – as ornamental plants, as food, as aquarium decoration

Daun kaduk (wild betel leaf) is also an ulam I have though I have yet to harvest and eat this. It is quite precious as it’s still growing and it seems to take forever to grow! (Update 2015: I noticed that if you let daun kaduk grow on the ground, it grows so much faster!).
It is not daun sireh – daun kaduk is softer and you can usually find this when you eat the appetiser, Mieng Kham, in Thai restaurants. This is the leaf you use to wrap the peanuts, dried prawns, chillies and all that yummy condiments. It is also used in Nyonya dishes such as perut ikan and otak-otak.
Glossy daun kaduk
Glossy daun kaduk

I also have daun setawar – I know it’s medicinal but is it an ulam? When I was in school, we used to pluck the leaves and use them as bookmarks! Apparently, it was magic to us kids because the “anak” (or baby plants) will grow from the sides of the leaf.
Daun setawar
Daun setawar

What disappoints me is that although my chili plants are growing and flower all the time, I have yet to see any real chilis! Any chili expert grower can tell me why?