Monday, December 17, 2007

Mellow Days and Evenings

The days are short - 7.50am till 4.40pm -- and the sun shines like a shy maiden (now you see her, now you don't). Daily temperatures tell us winter is here but there's no snow on the ground yet.

(Right) The bakery round the corner from the apartment building where I live.

Many bakeries in Switzerland like to decorate the store facade according to the seasons and festivities. They sometimes remind me of the edible house in the story 'Hansel and Gretel'.

(Above) The children's books in German I borrowed from the library and have read. I love the illustrations.

Learning German is hard-going if one does not use it every day. However, I enjoy choosing and reading children's books in the language. My other half helps me with the vocabulary and turns of phrases.

(Right) Where the lake in Cham pours into a river, there is a fishermen's boat-house with a backdrop of a church spire.

Other than writing and reading, I take walks in the lake park. When the day is sunny, despite the cold, lots of people stroll about - mothers with prams and children, people with their dogs, and a motley crew of other folk.

At the beginning of winter, a flock of greylag geese made a pit-stop at the Cham lake park. What's the marching soundtrack?!

For me, the best part of the lake park is the wildlife, the many swans, ducks, geese and water fowl that change their feathers with the seasons - just like fashion!

(Right) This could be Small Duck, actually a female Common Pochard (Tafelente in German), all grown up now and probably has a mate (the rusty-headed chap below). There are around 20 of her breed, both males and females, on the river and lake these days - Small Duck is no longer one of a kind.

Nearby is a yoga school, the building of which is fronted by a restaurant that was probably a milk-collection place - hence perhaps the cow statue?

Now that this is such a mish-mashy post, tell me which recipe you want and I will blog it:

Lemon iced cupcake

Naked coconut-milk cupcake

English scone (below right)

Or, lemon curdy pudding (below)?

Here's the recipe for Coconut-Milk Cupcake as requested by Cynthia:

80g butter
5 tbs sugar
7g packet of vanilla sugar or 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence
1 egg
4 tbs coconut cream or coconut milk
3 tbs plain yoghurt
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Cream sugar into butter. Add vanilla, egg, yoghurt and coconut cream. Mix gently. Mix baking powder and salt into the flour and mix the whole lot gently into the butter mixture. Spoon 3/4 full into paper cups in medium cupcake or muffin tray. Bake in a preheated oven at 175 degrees C for 22 minutes or until top is golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Makes 7 or 8 cupcakes.

Note: To make it extra special, top each cupcake with a few chunks of white chocolate before baking.

For Wonda, the Lemon Iced Cupcake:

For the cupcakes, use the cupcake recipe above, except that instead of the coconut cream, use 1 more egg, 4 tbs lemon juice and 1/2 cup of ground almond or hazelnut.

For the icing, use a handmixer to whip up:

100g butter
1 cup icing (powdered) sugar
3 tbs lemon juice
(add a drop of food colouring if you like)

Ice cupcakes when they've become cool.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

'Dark City 2' promises a disturbing read

Dark City 2, published by Midnight Press of Venton Publishing, is a spicy anthology of short stories by writers ranging from well-known ones such as Xeus, Tunku Halim, Lydia Teh and John Ling to emerging ones such as Jennifer Wan, Chua Kok Yee and Bissme S.

You can buy the book from the MPH megastore at Mid-Valley, Kuala Lumpur, and Kinokuniya, according to bloggers residing in Kuala Lumpur.

My story in it is named "Till Death". It's about a couple who is harbouring thoughts of murdering each other, but just who kills whom in the end?

As advised by Xeus, I'm posting an SMS review sent to me by a newspaper editor:

"Just read 'Till Death' and wanted to say how much I enjoyed it. Ally McBeal meets Norman Bates. A true black comedy on one level; an exploration of parental poisoning; a look at how murderous fantasies are translated into reality."

I would like to thank Xeus and Venton Publishing for letting me edit DC2 for grammar, just as they had engaged me to edit the original Dark City, an anthology of stories all penned by Xeus.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Farewell to Fall

Good-bye, Autumn! You leave us golden, you made them fall;
you gave a melancholic feeling to us all.

You whispered through the shimmery leaves
of the wiry, pale-faced birch.
You gracefully bowed to winter
in a time-honoured search

(for where in the cosmos do you go in the meantime?)

And you tip-toed away in a veil of
delicate lace of leaves.

How you have gifted us with cool balls of fiery rustling!


Now that I've gotten that off my chest - waxing a tad lyrical on a cold afternoon at the onset of winter...

Here's a moist carrot cake recipe I've adapted from a Canadian one (you can replace carrot with zucchini for something different and green-flecked!):

1/2 cup sunflower oil or melted butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt

1 cup grated carrot (or zucchini)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 raisins (optional)
3 tbs dessicated grated coconut

Mix together the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the dry ingredients together and add to the egg mixture. Finally add the last 4 ingredients. (Top with pieces of white chocolate if you want an extra treat for flavour!)
Scoop into a longish cake pan (approx. 4"x9", 3" high) lined with baking paper.
Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees C. Slow bake for 45-55 minutes for a moist cake.

For the truly sweet-toothed, make a cream cheese topping:
50g softened butter
120g cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
vanilla flavouring

Whip it all together till smooth and well-blended. Spread on top of cooled cake.

Zucchini cake (above) naturally looks less orangey than carrot cake.

(Above) One of Small Duck's male relatives or mate (front). I found out they are Tafelente, or Table Ducks in German (!), Common Pochard in English. Behind him is a nasty-looking Eurasian Coot.

Greylag geese came again to the Cham lake park for a few days on their way south. Behind the two are lake gulls.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Shorter Days Call for Sweet and Sour Pickles

Winter is upon us in Switzerland. The cloudy or rainy days are between 3 and 8 degrees Celsius here, whereas in the north-west of Italy by the Mediterranean, where I was for 3 days last weekend, it was sunny and warm (up to 22 degrees).

The water level at Zugerlake is noticeably lower now - compared to summer when it was flooded for a week (see pic below).

One tries not to let the cloudy days affect one's mood. It's not encouraging to see the sun set by five o'clock - when it had hardly made a showing during the short day. Sadly, Daylight Savings Time is a thing of the past.

If you are centred in yourself, and feel happy and content wherever you are in the world, you will not be affected so much by your surroundings.

I have at least one thing to look forward to: the book 'Dark City 2' is scheduled to be arriving in my letter box soon from Xeus. Yes, I have a story published in it - yay!

To tickle your tastebuds, here is a simple recipe for you to try:

Cucumber Carrot Pickle

1 medium-size cucumber
1 medium-size carrot
1 red chilli
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
3 tbs vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
4 tbs sugar

Wash and dry the cucumber and carrot. Remove the soft centre of the cucumber; slice the rest into 2mm-thin pieces. Slice the carrot thinly with a potato peeler. Deseed the chilli and slice it as small as possible. Put all ingredients into a clean, dry jar and mix with dry chopsticks. After several hours, mix again. Keep jar in refrigerator. The pickle is ready the next day.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One of Bread's Best Playmates

My best memory of kaya making is of my late mother. When I was a youngster, she would double-boil the kaya (Malaysian coconut cream & egg jam) for hours with a bunch of pandan leaves tied together (no instant essence in those days). After she decided to discard the leaves, I'd take them over and carefully lick them for the lovely kaya clinging to them.

Why 'kaya off the pandan leaves' tasted better than kaya from the jar is a question that beats me. ^_^

Other than butter, kaya is my favourite spread on bread. My previous post featured two bread recipes, and here's the simplest kaya recipe which I made recently:

Express Kaya

1 cup of egg (4 or 5, depending on the size)
1 cup of coconut cream
almost 1 cup of sugar
half teaspoon pandan essence

To get your cup of egg, break eggs into a cup till it fills up (tip - if you can put in only half an egg to fill up the last bit, choose the yolk rather than the white - for a lovely coloured kaya). Stir the first three ingredients in a heavy bottomed non-stick saucepan over low heat. Keep stirring for 18 minutes. Add pandan essence. Stir for another 5 minutes. If you like the texture of your kaya, take it off the heat -- it is ready.

(above) A sharper pic of the kaya nestling with a bit of better butter on homemade bread. The white cow is a milk dispenser I bought in Copenhagen many years ago. She spits milk into my coffee!


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Argus World: Bread Baking Made Easy#links

Argus World: Bread Baking Made Easy#links

Don't like kneading bread dough? Jaden of Steamy Kitchen has a gorgeous and ultra-cute No-Knead Bread story:

Monday, August 13, 2007

Where Art Thou, Small Duck?

About a month ago, my other half and I began noticing a extra-small duck -- probably a Common Pochard (Tafelente in German) -- in Zugerlakeside, Cham. The tail was curtailed, so to speak, and its neck very short and curved. Its bill though was longish and slightly upturned.

Being very energetic and resourceful -- to make up for its size perhaps -- Small Duck caught our attention and charmed us with the way it caught bread pieces and avoided Eurasian coots and mallards by diving under them or hopping over them.

We singled out Small Duck and a sole Carolina Wood duck (yes, that sweet timid fellow) to feed our few leftover bread pieces to. Some people came by with a biggish bag of bread and in the feeding frenzy, Small Duck seldom got a crumb because it was a bit wary of joining the quite violent fray among the swans, coots, mallards and lake gulls.

Small Duck would charm us by paddling furiously towards us whenever we stood by the shore to hurl bread chunks to it. With its relatively big webbed feet, it could manoeuvre its small body very artfully and make sudden turns to gain some space around it. Small Duck knew it needed that advantage to beat the coots and mallards to the bread.

(Right) Small Duck (possibly a Ferruginous) surrounded by Eurasian coots.

In the past few days, after it rained a lot for almost the whole day and night, the lake overflowed at certain places and poured strongly into the river in our small town. We no longer saw Small Duck in the evenings when we took our walks there. This morning, neither did I see it on the lake. I'm worried Small Duck might have been swept upstream into the river.

(Right) The Carolina Wood Duck in spring. It has now a shorter, snazzier 'haircut'.

Wherever Small Duck is, I hope Mother Nature is looking out for it -- in that it is safe and healthy and has enough to eat. Small Duck has stolen our hearts and it is sad not to see him or her anymore.

Below are some portraits I took of my favourite teenage Mute swans. Swan yoga, anyone?

(Above) Can you see light passing through the 'nostrils'?

(Above) This teen pen (female swan) gives a comical front view of her mug -- does it somehow remind you of the front view of an aeroplane?

Update (Aug 19, evening): We were throwing a few pieces of stale bread to the Carolina Wood Duck and the 'Dazy' swans (the three young pens often seem to be in a daze, or 'blur') when I spotted a familiar silhouette backlighted by the evening sun -- curved bill and small body with a short tail. Yes! Small Duck is back on the lake at Villette Park in Cham. Yahoo! She is safe and slightly bigger, at one point raising her small brown body and flapping her tiny wings. We are overjoyed to see her again.


Friday, August 3, 2007

Switzerland's National Day, Gladioli and Pleasing Pancakes

August First is Switzerland's National Day. You can Wiki it if you want to know its colourful history. One interesting point is that it was neutral during the world wars and spies criss-crossed it or were based there, slipping information across its borders with Germany and France. In Somerset Maugham's 'Collected Short Stories: Volume 3', I read of British secret agent Ashenden's adventures while he is stationed in Switzerland.

Maugham's eminently readable spy stories are essentially studies of character and portraiture in words. He is a master at describing and fleshing out grey characters with little judgment or proffering merely wry comment.

Thought I should include a picture of the little town I live in, Cham. Here you can see a golden crown (at left) hanging outside a restaurant, while a double-rainbow arches over a flag.

Also, on account of the national holiday, I would like to present close-ups of one of my favourite flowers grown in der Schweiz, gladioli. (Mrs HBT, here's a tribute to you and the lovely mothers we know.)

Also, as it's still summer, it's a good time to indulge in some pancakes which you can top with fresh red currants (Johannisbeeren) and slices of banana and nectarine or peach.

World-Is-Flat Pancake

3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk or buttermilk (buttermilk makes it fluffier)
1 egg
1 tbs powdered sugar
pinch of salt

Mix flour with baking powder, salt and sugar. Use a handmixer to combine flour mixture, milk and egg. Add 2 tbs water if you want a thinner pancake. Top with fruits of your choice directly after pouring enough dough into a heated and buttered pan to make a big round. Cook for a couple of minutes on medium-low heat. No need to turn over.

If the pancakes are made plain (flipped over once to lightly colour the other side), you can eat them dusted with powdered sugar and powdered cinnamon with applesauce (Apfelmus). Or with honey and a squeeze of lemon. Also tastes wonderful with some chopped mushrooms saute-ed in butter with onions, beef stock and a bit of milk.

Pancake dedicated to Lyrical Lemongrass: "Here's smilin' at you, kid!"

This one's with freckles and a hint of moustache (adolescent spent too much time in the sun?).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Tale of Spice and Intrigue

A couple of years ago, when I was working for a daily, I stumbled upon the most delicious and fresh-tasting chilli side dish - at the publication company's canteen, of all places. I asked tall, strapping Raju, the canteen operator, what the reddish concoction was made from and he told me: "Pounded fresh chillies and sliced onion cooked in salt."

It was that simple. But it was also simply appetizing. You could wolf down spoonfuls of rice with just this 'sambal'. However, after serving it a couple of times, Raju stopped making it - despite my begging him to do so. He never told me why he didn't dish it out anymore, even though I talked football with him every so often. Since then I've dreamt of eating this fabulous chilli thing, but somehow or other never attempted to make it myself.

The weather these few days in and around Zug, Switzerland, has been hot, hot, hot. As Mrs HBT has said, in summer, whip up some spicy dishes to stimulate your appetite - not that mine ever needs stimulating (as it is, I must eat once every three or four hours due to 'low blood sugar' or hypoglycaemia).

A blogger from Guyana, Cynthia of Tastes Like Home , has inspired me with her mouth-watering salt fish recipes. Today, I decided to break open the last pack of dried salted fish I'd brought from Malaysia and combine her tomato & onion inspiration with Raju's dream sambal into something satisfying yet low-caloried. (Who would have thought Cynthia and Raju would 'meet' like this?)

Tomato, Onion & Salt Fish Argussimo

3 or 4 pieces (roughly 50g) of dried salted fish, soaked in water for 10 minutes
2 tomatoes, cubed hugely
half a big onion, sliced quite thinly
1 red chilli, seeded and sliced thinly
1 tsp chopped or dried parsley
pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs of sunflower seed oil

Heat oil in saucepan. Add onion and stir-fry on medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Squeeze water from the salt fish and tear into smaller pieces, add them to the pan. Fry for another 2 minutes. Add tomato and fry till the liquid is reduced by half. Add sugar, salt and parsley, and cook for another minute. Serve hot with white rice.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bleeding Heart Muffins & Mauled Mallards

Here's another post with a multiple personality disorder. Don't say I didn't warn ya.

Wok&Spoon inspired me to make muffins with those eminently delightful dried cranberries a couple of weeks ago. To add interest, I gave the muffins a 'bleeding heart', which is a small spoon of cherry jam right in the middle. Topped with chunks of almond white chocolate and roasted hazelnuts, the muffins were ready for the oven. I almost forgot the cranberries - they were outside the kitchen by the sofa. Cranberries are great to munch on while watching the news - so I was in danger of scarfing the lot in my quest for interesting muffins.

The muffins were still reasonably soft the next day. Heat one in the microwave on low power for 12 to 15 seconds for an aromatic boost. If you want the recipe, here it is (I developed it myself):

Cranberry Bleeding Heart Muffins

150g butter
7 tbs sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar (or 1/2 tsp vanilla essence)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
a small handful of hazelnuts (or your favourite nuts), medium roasted
a small handful of white choc chunks
a handful of cranberries
4 tsp of your fav berry jam

Cream by hand the sugars into the butter for 2 minutes in a big bowl. Add eggs and mix lightly. Mix the flour with baking powder and salt, and add to butter mixture. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Butter 8 or 9 holes of medium muffin pan(s). Spoon a tablespoon of the batter into each hole. Add half a teaspoon of jam to the centre. Top with more batter till three-quarters full (a bit more if you like to bake dangerously!). Top with nuts, choc chunks and cranberries. Pop into the middle of the oven for 23-25 minutes. (Watch the 'rising show' through the glass front once every 5 minutes for added satisfaction.) Take out of oven and, after 2 minutes, remove muffins carefully with small fork and butter knife. Let cool on a wire rack. Eat two while still warm! (This recipe gives you 8 or 9 muffins.)

(Right) Isn't this the biggest cherry you've ever seen? It's labelled 'XL' in the supermarket here in Switzerland. Very juicy and sweet! Eating it is like a little spot of heaven on Earth.

The picture below is specially for Spiffy who wanted to see Scarface the duck. The Mallards seem to have lost some downy feathers from their heads. Next to these weather-worn wild ducks is a perfectly unmolested Eurasian coot, which is pretty hardy, cunning and quick.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Luckless in Lucerne

(above) The curiously painted front of a restaurant in Lucerne Old Town.

THOUGHT I'd take a break from food and go traipsing again. It was last Saturday and I was foot-loose and almost fancy-free.

Lucerne is about half an hour's train ride from Cham, the tiny two-street town where I live. Unlike Cham, Lucerne is almost always bustling in the daytime with locals and tourists from all over the world.

It so happened the Old City festival was in full swing with all manner of bands playing here and there in the pedestrian area. For instance, one tent had two singers performing Abba songs while a couple of streets away, a bagpipe band was wailing heartily. The organisers had set up tables and benches for beer drinkers and the like. Seated revellers buzzed with chatting and laughter. It was like a mini Oktoberfest.

I had wanted to do some shopping and museum visiting but had forgotten that street shops closed at four p.m. on Saturdays (and the art museum near the train station closed at five). Only the shops in the train station shopping centre opened till seven or nine but those weren't very attractive.

So I skipped town around six. It was uncanny on the train ride home from Lucerne - I opened the book of Somerset Maugham's short stories I carried with me and the spy in the tale I had begun reading was also taking a train from Lucerne. The agent, Ashenden, however, was headed for glamorous Basel; while lil' ol' me was bound for lil' ol' Cham.

The water at Lake Lucerne (above) is crystal clear.

My old living-room

My old living-room
In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

A cherished dream

A cherished dream
To live on a pale beach by a crystal clear sea. (This was taken on the east coast of Johor state, Malaysia.)