Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The dressmaker

Growing up, I have always thought that my classmates had custom made school uniforms like we did. My mom, before the start of the school year, would take our measurements and start working away at the sewing machine.

Ma is so underrated.

On my first day back, my mum brought me to the textile shop and told me to "zhao bu zhuo yi" (look for fabric to make clothes). I selected two, one which had a great colour for summer and the other, perfect for a cosy pair of pants. Altogether, it cost $22 for eight meter lengths.

This reminds me of a story my mum told us as kids.

Pregnant with her third child, my mum once used a 50 cents bus fare to buy ice-cream for her two children, knowing that she would have to walk in the heat and humidity for about an hour while taking care of the two little ones.

The sacrifices that she made to bring joys to her children is irreplaceable.


I did feel guilty that ma was spending hours at the sewing machine yesterday to make the clothes in time for my flight back to Perth this evening. Sewing is a lot of hard work. It takes bucket loads of patience, creativity, motivation, extreme precision and skills. 

But ma reassured me that as long as I like the clothes that she makes, it is all worth the effort.

And I LOVE the clothes!

Fit for all occassions.

And she inspired me to make my own creations too. While she was sewing, I made a headband out of yellow and black buttons. Ma helped to sew the two ends of the headband together.

The headband as modeled by my lil niece Tuu Tuu...

 ... who is undeniably and effortlessly THE cutest baby

Ma is making yet another top for me (the last one). Sewing time is also a great family get-together chit-chat time so I best be going.

Here's to mothers who sew.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Our lives seem to be made up of boxes. We wake up in a box called our bedrooms. We then step into the living room, the bathroom, kitchen, dining room - all shaped like boxes. When we go to the office or to the shops, it is like walking from one box to another.

And we have moving boxes, otherwise known as cars. Boxes created to provide a form of shelter/protection. But where do our bodies feel most at comfort?

Personally, I am most at ease when I am outdoors. When I can breathe in fresh air and when I am surrounded by greenery.

That might be the reason why my parents are always in the veggie patch when they get the chance. Why my dad is there with the "cangkul" [garden hoe] early in the morning. Not just so he can gross me out with a container full of earthworms. 

I have heard, however, that worm farms are a great source of fertilisers.

The november rain greets a batch of newly planted corn

If you get the chance, have yourself a coconut drink... fresh. My sister Alice says that the best time to pick coconuts is in the morning. That is when they are at their sweetest.


My mum says that coconut water is good for fevers. It helps to cool down the body. And if a new born baby is "yellow" or jaundice, to bathe the baby in coconut water. Use about five coconuts each time - for about three to four days.

Now there are about six coconuts sitting on the kitchen floor right now. I indulged in one (okay, maybe two) green coconuts yesterday. The juice was sweet and fragrant, the white flesh easy to scrape off with a spoon and it was delicious. Think I will have another one now.

Till next time, happy chillaxing!


I asked my mom whether she keeps track of when it is best to plant certain herbs or veggies and she says that she doesn't. To her, it is all for the fun of it. 

Nature, I believe, in its appreciation gives even more in abundance.

From the beautiful view of the setting sun rays on the trees in the distance as my mom cooks dinner...

... to the animals that visit...

... to the bird that decided to bear its nestling amongst the branches of the lime tree.

And the small but growing bunches of pandan leaves. Pandan, pronounced as "pun-done", is a long green leafed plant which gives a sweet, almost almond-ish scent.

Ma says that pandan can help cure cholesterol-related diseases. She explains first that cholesterol is not only caused by eating meats or fatty foods but also from stress. Ma says to relax and not to worry about the small things at work.

And... to cook a cooling pandan drink. A great summer drink to cool down the body. All you need is a bunch of pandan leaves. Ma usual ties them in a knot and places them in a pot of boiling water. For a touch of sweetness, my mum says to add "bing tang".

In English, we call bing tang "rock sugar". It does kind of look like rocks.

On that note, adieu and rock on!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


If I could make a t-shirt right now, it would have big bright words "I heart Ciku" on it.

The Ciku fruit looks very much like a Kiwi fruit but that is probably the only thing that the two fruits have in common. The Ciku is a tropical fruit and on the inside, its texture is marvelously thick and sweet. 

I admit that I have not eaten the fruit in years and so, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia when I found out we had a Ciku tree. 

Now the trick to Cikus is to first pick a couple of the biggest ones and to store them with [uncooked] rice for a couple of days until it ripens and becomes soft.

Great gift idea don't you think?

And today, we have another basket full of jambu. 

Best be going now, I have to put the cikus in the rice storage - can't wait for them to ripen!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Curry leaves

How could it not dawn on me and those around me when I was going through my teenage years in Brunei that I was never meant to have a figure like Miranda Kerr? This blog is a living proof of why I was a phat [not fat] and healthy teenager.

One of my fondest memories of my mom's kitchen is the fragrance of curry leaves boiling away in a yellow/orange mixture in a massive wok.

Back in the 90s, whenever my mum would cook curry, she'd ask one of us kids to head to the back of the house to pluck some curry leaves from the pot. I would then go around, sniffing all the plants until I found one that reminded me of curry. I kid you not.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw a tree full of curry leaves in the farm. 

I asked my mum what one could do with curry leaves and she said that you could fry them with peanuts and anchovies. Add salt and sugar for flavour. It is a simple yet enticingly addictive entrĂ©e or party snack. Ma advised "not to eat too much" because it is high in cholesterol.

You can also make a beautiful curry dish using the essences of the curry leaves. And yes, I am about to impart to you my mum's easy curry recipe.

Marinate chicken with salt. Chop up small white and red onion and fry in a wok with oil. Side note: if you do not have a wok, pamper your tastebuds and buy yourself one. While you are there at the Oriental store, get a packet of curry powder. And a coconut cream powder packet. Santan (pronounced "sun-tun") is a Malay term for coconut milk.

Right, where were we? Fry the mix of onions until they are brown, add the chicken and also, potatoes followed by the curry and coconut powder (heat on high). And finally *drums roll* you can add the beautiful curry leaves. I am pretty sure you can buy the leaves at some stores.

Let it simmer on medium heat for about half an hour if you like your chicken a bit tough. If you prefer it tender, give it about an hour.

And when it is done, serve it with a bowl of rice. 

Red dish: Homemade belacan

By the way, my mum used to work as a hairdresser and I always ask ma to give me a haircut when I am back in Brunei. This time, she gave me a nice layered hairstyle and I am loving the length. Saved me AUD$70!

Right, I better go help my mum in the kitchen. Last I check, she was shelling prawns to make prawn crackers and I think she is mixing the ingredients now.

Till next time, happy feeding!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Ma: "Go look, look at the rabbits in the backyard"

My initial thoughts were... "What? We have rabbits??"

So I put my sandals on and head to the back of the house to discover two huuuuge pens filled with rabbits.

But what caught my attention was the row of corn planted right in front of the pens. Corn!?

Then my mom points out to me that the plants that are grown beside the corn are good for people who have heart problems.

We have plants that heal??

And that was when I thought, I have to tell the world about this!

To me, being sustainable is all about being green. To be an individual as opposed to being a mass consumer. It is an initiative to halving the grocery spend.

But to my parents, this whole idea of growing one's own food is only practical. It is something that is done, simply because it can be done.

Today's produce is "shui weng". Known in English as wax apple. But my parents call it "jambu", the Malay version. The jambu tree was planted back in 2002, at a young height of 80cm.

My mum says that when the fruit is at about two weeks old, it needs to be wrapped up in plastic to prevent worms from getting into it.

And today, we have a basket full of jambu. My mum is planning to give them away to her friends and to the neighbours.

I told my mum that I was going to blog about... let's call it, "the farm"... and she was very happy to hear it. She even offered to answer any queries about the farm if anyone has any.

You can call her... Auntie Helen

That is ma with her home grown potatoes.

Right, I better go now. Ma just cooked herbal duck and a belacan dish.

Till next time, happy planting!