Friday, March 21, 2008

Touching Clown Girl and Mashed Banana Fritters

It all started with the film Fight Club, which is based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk. My good friends and I saw the film two or three times at the cinema and on video. I read the book and enjoyed it, too. Then the other books by Mr Palahniuk, an Oregonian former car mechanic, beckoned and I read and savoured all of them over a couple of years.

The author attended a writers' group when he was still a struggling writer. One of the writers was Monica Drake, someone he kindly wrote a very generous introduction for in her recent first novel, Clown Girl, after he became famous.

Ms Drake's book is published by Hawthorne Books, which produces large-format paperbacks with a difference -- they have fold-in covers that work as built-in bookmarks as well. (I would recommend looking for Clown Girl and other Hawthorne-published books online at The Book Depository as the company delivers without charging for postage and handling. You can find other titles published by Hawthorne at

Clown Girl made me laugh and cry. It is about a young woman called Nita who has artistic clown ambitions. She rents a room with her boyfriend Rex, nude-model-cum-fellow-artist-clown, in her ex-boyfriend's house in a dodgy part of Baloneytown. Rex is away in a big city purportedly auditioning for clown college.

Nita hardly eats and suffers from some ailment. A nice police officer saves her during one of her fainting spells. While she has to collect enough of her urine output over 24 hours for a medical test, she needs to earn a living as a corporate clown. In the meantime, a bossy clown colleague tries to engage her in questionable one-on-one clown dates with men who have a fetish for clowns (coulrophiles, they're called). As if Nita doesn't have enough on her plate, her landlord's current girlfriend, who is a scary body builder, has it in for her.

The hilarious, yet in some ways sad, story involves a hot lawnmower, a urine collection funnel, a rubber chicken, a lost dog, clown sex, balloon sculptures and a cop who smells like baked cinnamon goodies. Are you intrigued yet?

Somehow cooking with bananas seems to go well with today's topic. Slipping on banana skin and fashioning banana-shaped balloons into religious icons and scenes are part of Nita's colourful life.

So here you go, a funny well-loved Malaysian snack:

Mashed Banana Fritters (Kuih Kodok in Malay)

2 big, ripe bananas (about 180g), mashed
3-4 tbs flour
1 tbs rice flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1 1/2 tbs oil (for frying)

1. Mix the flours, baking powder, soda, salt and sugar in a bowl. Stir it into the mashed banana with a fork. (Add the fourth tbs of flour if mixture is too soft.)
2. Heat a frying pan to medium-hot and add enough oil to coat the flat area. (Traditionally, this snack is deep-fried but I find it not all that necessary.) Spoon small mounds of the banana mixture onto the pan when the oil is heated (a soft sizzling sound when the batter touches it).
3. Fry one side till medium brown and flip over to fry the other side. Place cooked fritters on a few layers of kitchen paper. Best served warm.

Spring is in the air! Here are pictures of cut tulips I bought from the market and pink and yellow blossoms on trees in Zug.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

For the Love of a Cosmic Travelling Dog + Berry Rustic Pear Cake

This post is dedicated to our lovely, lovable and loving dog-ward of five weeks, Tigi. Her 'mum' and I met through the English Forum of Switzerland. She said she needed a dog-sitter for a few weeks and I offered a trial weekend with the dog.

Tigi giving the Argus look (above right).

She knows better than to pee on art (right).

All went well, and Tigi came to stay with us for five weeks. During the twice or thrice daily walks, we got to know some neighbourhood dogs, the most notable of which are a giant-sized Malamute, a black and white Great Dane (whom we dubbed 'Horse Dog'), and a neighbour's cocker spaniel, whose 'hairstyle' was messed up by Tigi's wagging tail.

The funniest thing is that I was quite convinced Tigi is a reincarnation of my late beloved dog, Argus. (See the very first post of this blog named after her.) Tigi's face and front paws look so much like Argus'. The expression on her mug is exactly the same, not so much her colouring and waviness of fur.

One day, I looked deeply into her warm brown eyes and said, "Argus? Is that really you in there somewhere, Argus?" Tigi merely gave me a look that almost said, "Are you mad? For gnawing's sake, whom are you talking to?"

So much for clairvoyance and astral travelling. Sigh.

Whatever the case, at least Tigi appreciated my boiling her meaty bones with rice, which supplemented her premium dry dogfood diet every evening.

The mute swans like to hiss loudly at her -- in case she wants to get too close.

And so it came to be that I buried my sorrows in a spate of cake baking. And eating, of course. Here's another recipe I adapted from Rohani Jelani's (she's a chef and cooking teacher in Kuala Lumpur):

Rustic Pear & Berry Cake

80g butter
5 or 6 tbs raw sugar (depending on how sweet your tooth is)
2 eggs
50ml buttermilk or yoghurt
150g flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
one big ripe pear, sliced about 1.5x1cm and 3mm thick
1/2 cup thawed raspberries, blackberries, etc

Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Cream butter with sugar till fluffy. Add egg, mixing well before the next one. Add buttermilk or yoghurt and stir.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and soda and salt. Mix this gently into the butter mixture. Add the fruit. Do not overmix.

Line a deep longish loaf pan with baking paper. Scoop in the cake batter. Smooth down the surface. Bake for around 35 minutes (till a small clean and dry knife inserted into the middle comes out 'clean'). Let cool in pan for 5 minutes before placing cake on wire rack.

Eating it while it's still warm is heavenly. The next day, cut a slice and heat on low in the microwave for 13 seconds.

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.)