Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gay Paree, May Paree!

Recently, went to Paris to meet two smiley ex-colleagues, one of whom was on assignment there. Together we did the touristy thing and visited the Louvre -- did you know Monna Lisa is spelt this way?! -- the Eiffel, Champs-Elysee and Montmart, the vibrant artistic part of the city near the Sacred Heart church where they filmed 'Amelie'.

Here are a few pictures:

(top left) Joan of Arc in the Louvre: 'Ah kin hear Ya but will I listen? Ya know what I mean?'
(lower right) A (peeping Tom's!) view of the bed & breakfast where we stayed at the edge of Paris.
(above right) Eiffel invaded by gigantic roses.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bread! Food of gods, goddesses and other critters

The other day, I made from scratch and baked my first loaf of bread -- dotted lightly with chopped walnuts, green olives (the taste of olives tickles the palate!), cereal, poppy seeds and pumpkin seeds. Yay.

At first, I was kind of uncertain, looking at the many kinds of flour and a few kinds of yeast at the supermarket. There were a few types of pre-mixed bread flour which I snubbed after considering it for a few seconds, and instead chose organic unbleached bread flour and a pack-of-three dry yeast.

An ex-colleague had given me this huge and heavy 'Bread Bible' book but I was too lazy to lug it around, so I dug into my favourite spiral-bound 'Open House' book of recipes and stories of volunteers who help feed the homeless (it's inspiring, and bought cheaply at some book fair). I found Cinnamon Cranberry Bread and modified the recipe to suit my five-hundred ingredients.

Very scary -- coz when I sprinkled the yeast into a cup of warm water (maybe it was too hot?), it didn't bubble up much after 10 minutes. Anyway I mixed it with the flour and the rest of the ingredients and halved the recipe for one loaf. I put the lump of dough in an oiled bowl and covered it with cling film to 'prove'. Put it somewhere warm, the recipe said. Geez, it was a rainy cool day so it was hard to find a warm place. After half an hour, it had only increased a bit in volume, so how to 'punch' it down?

For the second period of proving, I heated the oven to 50 degrees, switched it off, and put the bowl in it. Again, the dough only increased slightly in volume. What the hex, I thought. I preheated the oven to 180 degrees C, reshaped the dough a bit and placed it in an oiled loaf pan, and popped the whole production into the oven.

After 32 minutes, I took it out as the top was getting brown. I forgot to knock on the bottom of the pan to hear if it sounded hollow (that's to indicate readiness).

It tasted lovely though; the texture was quite dense (luckily, my partner likes bread dense and not fluffy) and had a bit too much sugar, I thought. Went well with butter and smoked raw ham and even jam.

Now my partner is converted -- last time he thought bread is not worth the trouble making. Now he thinks it is, since we're not in Germany and he can't get his "chicken food" (I call it) dark brown bread here. He even went as far as to suggest getting a bread-making machine, but I pooh-poohed it, saying, "No challenge in that!"

So the second time, I used a Jamie Oliver recipe and ... all is right with the world again. The dough rose like nobody's business. Jamie's the man!

P.S. If you're wondering why the accompanying picture is of dog-bathing and not bread-making, well, I don't want to steal any pics off the 'Net -- and, anyway, the activities are quite similar. You get a nice-smelling fresh dog at the end, too.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Take This Poll!

Which vowels do you favour?
A, because I'm a Type A personality and such achieve the most.
E, it's the most used vowel. Hey, I'm an egalitarian, for-the-masses kind of person.
I, i is for I, me and id. The world revolves around moi; heck, no, the universe revolves around me.
O, because I'm sexy to the hilt. Yeah, the Story of O, all right!
U, coz I care about you and you and you. Me, goodie two shoes and all that. free polls

Der Spargel*

From Chuck Palahniuk (author of 'Fight Club', 'Survivor', etc) I learnt about Amy Hempel, an American short story writer. Her 'Tumbleweed', 'Dog of the Marriage' and 'Reasons to Live' led me to 'Unleashed: Poems by Writers' Dogs' which Hempel co-edited with Jim Shepard.

I being a dog floating in the cosmos, of course, quickly dug into the canine poems. Woof! Amused and delighted by the slim tome, I present to you some lines from it:

Could you take your foot off my head? Anything to eat in those pockets? Off! I'm not a horsey. -- Daisy, five, Speaks to Sophia, Two (Ralph Lombreglia)

Last night I urped a knot of tennis net; Picky bastard won't ever get the ball. I'm keeping the next duck too. -- Jessie's 'Lab Lines' (Robert Benson)

The poems are grouped under categories such as Belles Lettres, The Good Life and Canine Nervosa. In the last one, Arthur Miller gives us "Lola's Lament", a sensitive exposition on a dog's preoccupation and obsession with security for its human companions.


*P.S. Der Spargel (the asparagus) is a play on Der Spiegel (the mirror), an established German periodical. The allusion to asparagus is an oblique nod to Astral-travelling Argus.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Inspiring journalists

I remember reading Adibah Amin's Sri Delima column when I was a kid and thinking: "It's so nice to reach out to so many people through a newspaper." She was one of those who inspired me to put words down on paper. Another is Pak Sako of Utusan Pelajar. He was good-naturedly encouraging and kept on publishing my silly essays and poems. A few times, he awarded me RM10 to RM30 for my efforts.

There was also a column in The Malay Mail which catered for youngsters' prose and poetry. Eagerly I would scan the page every week to see if mine was published. If I remember correctly, the daily also gave away little cash prizes, which was so gratifying to an impecunious child. It was solid proof that one had achieved something, no matter how small.

And then there were Fats, a pseudonym used by Thor Kah Hoong for his hilarious and rambunctious 'makan' reviews, and Rehman Rashid's witty and incisive Scorpion Tales.

Who were the columnists and journalists you read and remember? Who gave you that shiver of delight over shared thoughts and illumination on an unfamiliar subject? And who simply entertained you with their writing?

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.)