Christmas spirit

on Friday, December 30, 2011
I've come to realize, probably for the first time in my life, that the Christmas 'spirit' (whatever that may be) doesn't just descend on me anymore. I'd have to force myself some Christmas cheer if I wanted it, because it's not around me everywhere. Christmas came and went without much hoop-la this year. I didn't put up any decorations - I know, shocking - only made one attempt at baking (fail), and didn't even watch my favorite Christmas movie, Elf, this year. The one thing we did do this year, and a good tradition to keep, actually, was to make an advent calendar with daily readings of prophecies from the old testament and ending with the fulfillment in the new testament. We realized that we've gotten so caught up in the traditions of Christmas that really have no relation to the birth of Christ, so it gave me a different perspective than I've ever had. Refreshing.

We went to KL for Christmas. Reuben was sick the week leading up to Christmas, and he was only starting to feel a little bit better by the 23rd, so we headed to the city then. I helped drive :) And because Christmas is so much about the food, I made sure to take pictures of what I ate that day. Note: no marshmallow crescent rolls for breakfast, and no Christmas ham. And most unfortunate of all, not my mothers Christmas baklava.

The closest wifi connection to Reuben's mom's house in KL is an indian restaurant called Anouska. We went on Christmas morning to eat breakfast and to skype with my family. I realize that this picture looks really unspectacular, but this tosei really is delicious.

Reuben's mom made us lunch so we at before we left (we had to head back on Christmas day because I had to teach the next morning). Her food is always delicious, and I wish I knew her secrets. But this plate of food should read: DANGER for me, because my stomach does not enjoy the food as much as my mouth does. It takes me a few days to recuperate.

If Reuben and I have a Christmas tradition here in Malaysia (this was my 3rd Christmas here, I think), it's going to the Christmas Eve Candlelight service at the Wesley Methodist Church. It's beautiful, and Reuben gets the chance to see friends from the olden-days.

So with that, Merry Christmas, and more timely, happy new year!

Disaster in the kitchen

on Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Good afternoon, or good morning, wherever you are. Would you like a Christmas cookie?

Festive, no?

It all started this afternoon when I decided to make these. Cookies made with fresh ginger? Why not? Described as 'especially good'? Yes please!

It was actually a recipe I could duplicate perfectly, unlike most things I cook or bake. I was setting myself up for Christmas cookie success. After all, this was probably the only Christmas cookie I would make this season. It had to be perfect.

Enter wheat molasses.

This still perplexes me. The friendly lady at Sim told me this was the real deal, so I purchased this bag of goo unreservedly. I didn't know anything was wrong until I went to open it today, to make my perfect ginger cookies. You know that deep, dark taste that molasses normally has? Nope. Sweetness? None here. Sticky? This stuff was like sap. It was really fun to wash the dishes afterwards.

So my cookies would have none of that molasses-y goodness. But my pre-baked oven awaits and I'll bake them anyway.

Enter electric oven.

This is what my cookies looked like in about 5 minutes. You see that corner burning in the back? That's how my oven rolls. In the end, I ended up just shoveling the uni-cookie in its entirety onto a plate.

Luckily for him, my husband cannot taste anything because of his throat infection. Unluckily for him, he has literally been sleeping all day, besides watching a few episodes of Heroes season one. My first kitchen disaster of the day was to try to make him some chicken rice porridge, which I totally burned (but he can't taste that either). So I can't just blame my kitchen failures on my oven.

The mystery of the wheat molasses remains. From what I read, molasses is made from cane sugar. Period. Not even google is aware of a molasses made of wheat. Well, it doesn't matter anymore, what remains of the molasses is in the garbage.

It's official

on Monday, December 19, 2011
I'm a Malaysian driver! It took me a month of agonizing both myself and Reuben as I obliged him to drive me around to buy paper, fabric, paint, glue, postage stamps, food, rugs, seeds, an electric oven, diet coke, and on and on.

Meet our car, a locally-made Proton Saga.

Now I'm freeeeee! Ok I still have a rather limited 'radius,' haven't driven by myself yet and I haven't exactly practiced in heavy traffic either. But I managed to get through the most difficult part: the tiny ramps up and down to our parking garage!

Where will my first solo trip be? I feel like I'm 16 again!

Growing basil

on Friday, December 16, 2011

I planted my basil seeds on Dec 1st, the day after we moved into our new place. A week went by, then 10 days, and I started to think that they were duds. Then finally, after shielding them away from the wind and rain and sun, and making sure they were well (but not too much) watered, they proved to me that they were still alive! They currently sit on top of our washing machine and I have to rotate them every day so they don't bend too far toward the light from the window.

I've been craving basil ever since I put those seeds in the dirt, and I don't have the patience to wait until these guys grow up. Malaysian food uses surprisingly little basil, considering that its neighbor to the North uses it ALL the time. I can't even find basil at the morning market, where they usually have everything under the sun. I finally found some packaged stuff at the supermarket yesterday. I've been waiting to make this. Oh man, it is delicious. I licked the blender. I made it early in the day so that all those nice flavors can meld together before throwing it in some pasta and chicken. I can't wait for dinner!!

Those sprouts better grow up fast! They don't know what's coming!


on Thursday, December 15, 2011
When Martha Stewart came to Malaysia last year, she wrote a daily blog about her trip. One of the things she mentioned several times was the constant building being done. "There is a lot of construction being done all around Kuala Lumpur", she notes and "many cranes punctuate the landscape". That's the understatement of the century. Leave it to Martha to say it tastefully.

This is looking down from our balcony. I chose a bad time to take this picture because I don't see any workers or heavy-lifting equipment. But they're there. ALL the time. Well, 8-6 Monday through Saturday, at least. This was one 'con' that we considered when looking for an apartment. This construction here, a massive double highrise, started being built about 3 years ago. Luckily, they finished the building nearest us (probably less than 100m away) and are working on tower #2, which is blocked because of the completed building. But there's still lots of noise. There are still sirens, controlled explosions, water pumps, cranes, lots of dump trucks and cement trucks coming through, and lots of jack-hammering. Let me say it again: lots of jack-hammering. This comes from both our balcony as they work on the street below us and also from the other side, where someone, somewhere in this building, is renovating. There's always someone renovating. And it always requires lots of jackhammering, to get through the concrete and tile which is the primary building material here. I estimate (from my trips up and down the elevator, from where I perceive the noise to be the greatest) that it's about 10 floors down from us. The first time I heard it, about a week ago, though, I thought it was literally next door. Sound carries well here!

We took all this into consideration when choosing to stay here, but we knew that it would not likely be better elsewhere. You can't get away from it here. Someone, somewhere within your earshot, will have jackhammer in hand. This is Malaysia.

The only silence I ever hear is in the morning, before daybreak. Such a wonderful time!

Banana leaf

on Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Let me introduce you to what might possibly be my favorite food in the whole world. Even more than strawberries or no-bake cookies. If I really had to choose only one thing to eat for the rest of my life, I'm pretty sure it would be this.

It's served on a banana leaf. It comes with a large mound of white rice, 3 veggie dishes, and sides of dhal, the curry of your choice, rassam, and pappadam. All for about $1.50. Did I mention you get unlimited refills? (though I rarely get that far)

Ever since I got to Malaysia and my stomach had a rough transition back to Asian food, and ever since I had my stomach bug a few weeks ago, I have had huge cravings for white rice. Not brown rice, though that's what I always eat at home. White, bland, starchy, perfectly cooked rice. I think that means my digestive system is adapting.

Coconut Butter

on Monday, December 12, 2011
Two very exciting things today:

1) I got my electric oven! I've been fully prepared to bake for about 2 1/2 weeks now, except for that tiny detail of having an oven. Joy!

2) My first baking experiment (I call it experiment because I've never used convection before, and table-top ovens tend to cook food different anyway so I didn't know what would happen!): COCONUT BUTTER! I had no idea such a thing as coconut butter existed until we spotted a jar of Artisana on Bainbridge earlier this year. It runs $10 a jar, but it is totally worth it!

Although this is the 'land o' coconut', people here don't eat coconut butter (or use coconut oil). I don't know why, but they're really missing out! I've read online of lots of people making their own coconut butter using desiccated coconut. Often times it ended in disaster. I was a little bit wary because of that and the fact that I only had fresh grated coconut, so I would have to dehydrate it myself. Enter: oven.

I bought my fresh coconut at the morning market a few days ago and froze it until I needed it. The flakes ended up toasting more than they should have. Perhaps I should have lowered the temperature a bit, but toasted coconut is delicious in itself right? So why not in coconut butter. I've read that the blending process could take a ridiculously long time (like an hour in some cases), but my blender was working so hard that it got hot, which heated up the coconut and made it smoother and easier to blend. Coconut butter is a solid at room temperature, so it needs no refrigeration, and you have to heat it up in order to spread it. I ended up blending it for probably less than 5 minutes.

I spent a dollar on the coconut, and I probably ended up with about a cup of coconut butter. Artisana coconut is pure white, while mine is a little brown because of the toasted flakes. Nevertheless, I call it a success! Maybe I could turn this into a business....


Reuben and I went to the mainland today, and we had our first ferry ride since leaving Bainbridge. As you can see, it is quite a different experience. Some of the ferries here have benches on the top deck for seating, but our ferry was just cars, no seats.

Check out this treachery i.e. the stairs. I see that as a serious lawsuit happening if it were on a Washington State Ferry.

We passed by several ferries headed in the opposite direction on the way there, and the ferry ride is probably less than 20 minutes, so you never have to wait very long unless there's a long car line (which there was when we left the island, so we took the bridge).

As sketchy as they seem, at least they are colorful!

It was an added bonus to be able to watch the smacks of sea jellies floating by ("smack" is the term for a group of jellies. Fact of the day.)

Lunar Eclipse

on Saturday, December 10, 2011
We heard that there was going to be a world-wide lunar eclipse yesterday evening, and it was set for about 6pm here. Unfortunately the clouds did not cooperate with us, and we missed it.

But, while we were down the hill from our apt we stopped by the mini-mart to pick up a few things. We ran into our friend Raja, who operates a car-wash across the street. His wife Mathi (I don't know how to spell her name, I only know that I normally pronounce it wrong and unintentionally call her the Tamil word for "death".) was at the Hindu temple right next door and we stopped in to see her and her two kids. Little did we know that they were about to start their celebration of the full moon, which apparently happens every month. We stood in the back and watched the women (it was all women minus Reuben and the temple priest) fill metal jugs with concoctions of coconut milk, cows milk, and water. When the priest rang the bell to start, they put the jars on their heads and walked around the temple 3 times, praying to their various gods. The temple priest took the jugs and then, over the next 20 minutes or so (we eventually snuck out, we didn't know how long it would go for!) poured the milk and lots of water over the god in the sacred area in the center of the temple.

Needless to say, there was lots and lots of milk wasted in the process. I could have made so much yogurt with that!

This all happened after a day of wandering around the ultra-modern and luxurious Straits Quay mall. This is one of the things I love about Malaysia. There's such a dynamic conglomeration of people, places, and cultures. Everyone here has a niche but lives in the midst of everyone else's space. Only in Malaysia!

The essentials

on Friday, December 9, 2011

There are a few things that I carry around with me pretty much everywhere I go. My precious pair of craft scissors, mini rolls of scotch tape, raffia, and hot glue. They have all been utilized quite well here so far.

I did indeed bring my glue gun with me, but unfortunately I forgot the converter to go with it. Reuben finally came home one day with an Asian-electricity-compatible hot glue gun in hand. The best $5 ever spent. Hot glue is a miracle if you want to spruce up your place without leaving any marks. Especially on concrete walls, like ours. I picked up this little secret when living in the dorms at SPU. Since then (yesterday) I've put up curtains, and used the hot glue for hemming the fabric and hanging the curtains with hot glue. I'm quite proud of how I gathered the curtains (again....with hot glue).

Excuse the messy kitchen. We're working on storage solutions right now....also a project on my list.

I also made some no-sew pillows.

Yes, those are salmon-colored couches. I am attempting to make them look nice by complementing them with nice yellow colors. Another project.

I also hot glued a star out of twigs and raffia. On my occasional walks around the neighborhood I have been collecting random sticks and twigs, and bringing them up to our place. People often carry sticks to keep off the stray dogs around here, but a bundle of sticks? People think I'm crazy. I also made Reuben pick up a wood pallet last week. It was broken and dirty but I gave it a little bit of love, and now it has so much potential! Another project.

Yesterday I discovered that the landscaping guy has been harvesting bamboo next to the pool. I have forced Reuben to hunt him down to see if we can take some. If so...another project.

As you can see, I am trying to keep busy making our place cozy while we're making our decisions on exactly what we'll be doing here. A lot of things slow down in Dec/Jan because of Christmas and Chinese New Year, so most of our work will only start to ramp up in January.

The end of the list

on Monday, December 5, 2011
Reuben and I are thoroughly enjoying our new place. We're just now starting to reconnect with people here and consider exactly what we'll be doing for the next year. In the meantime, I have been keeping Reuben the chauffeur busy taking me around to hardware stores, the fabric store, and various other destinations to get what I need to make this little place perfect. I admit, it's kind of aggravating not to have a JoAnns or a Michaels as a one-stop-shop. But little by little, I've been collecting fabric, paints, picture frames, glass bottles, that will turn into my next craft projects. The last thing I need? Reuben's converter that he left in KL. I brought my glue gun with me and it's the only electronic appliance we have that doesn't auto convert to 220V. So much of my crafting will have to wait until we go head back to the big city.

Today we went to Little India to stock up on bulk foods. It's probably questionable how fresh these foods are, but judging by how packed the stores always are, I think they go through their stock pretty fast. We came away with loads of dried chickpeas and black beans, cloves and cinnamon sticks, curry mixes, Iranian dates and prunes (can't get those in the US!), and the most deliciously plump California raisins I've ever seen in my life. They will not last long in our home.

The quality of these pictures is crappy because I've stopped carrying my camera around most places (even the compact one) and have started using my phone. I think it's a little more discreet, but people assume anyway in places like this that I am a tourist. And because of the way Reuben dresses and his apparently askew Malaysian accent, they think he is on holiday as well. Today was no exception. All I wanted was someone to get me a kilo of chickpeas, but the store clerks were asking me where I am from and whether I've eaten ("suda makan", or have you eaten, is the go-to small-talk after "hello.") "I'm from America and yes I have eaten and I would like a kilo of black beans".

I get asked questions a lot. Sometimes they ask me my name and after I tell them, they give me a blank stare (just as I give a blank stare to the Chinese when they tell me their name, such as yesterday when a man told me his name is "Ooi"). The stare continues until a person occasionally says, "OOHH, like Erin Brockovich!". I can't tell you how many times I've gotten that, and I bet those people will never forget my name because of it. I've also been called "demi moore", hopefully not in reference to Striptease.

A miracle

on Thursday, December 1, 2011
A miracle has occurred! This afternoon, I unpacked my suitcases. They're empty, see for yourself!

We have finally found an apartment and moved in two days ago. So far, we're really happy with it. We're on the 26th floor of a 27-floor building, have 2 bedrooms which is pretty well furnished. We have a wonderful balcony with a stellar view and a great ocean breeze coming through all the time. Yay!

Although our apartment is "furnished", it didn't come with much of any kitchen stuff, so we needed to purchase the essentials such as dishes, pots, a spatula, boring stuff like that. Yesterday, Reuben thought it would be a great idea to drive to Georgetown (the old historical part of the Island) to shop in the Chinese stores. Don't be deceived: this is no Williams-Sonoma. These are made up of total chaos, where they don't have room to store everything so they hang it from the ceiling and stuff the aisles until there isn't one anymore.

At least we got what we needed, and now I can say I bought my kitchenwares in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our next stop (and my most favorite) was Sims, the baking mecca of Penang. Now, I don't exactly have my toaster oven (that's all I can hope for here in Penang) in my possession yet, but I'm so excited to get baking again that I couldn't wait to get my essentials: whole wheat flour, sugar, yeast, blah blah blah.

Seriously, this place is amazing. I was personally escorted into the secret "chocolate room" in the back where I picked out my imported cocoa powder. Joy! It got even better when we found out the owner's son lives in Seattle and went to UW. Now we're on the Sims' good side.

No trip to Georgetown would be complete without stopping at Reuben's favorite coconut man. Oh coconut water, I missed you!

Then today we went to Tesco. This is the British version of a Walmart, and a new one just opened just 2 miles from our apt. That's good news, considering we didn't have any good shopping options on our side of the island before. My most exciting purchase of the day: Basil seeds. I'll give seed-starting a try! My first craft venture was to make some starter-pots from toilet paper rolls.

I'm hoping that the ocean view will make them burst out of their little seeds faster.