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Monday, June 29, 2009

Home-Made Pesto Sauce

We're rather into wraps this month. We've had them so many times! It's great fun to make a wrap amidst all the cries of "Hey! It's dropping out the other end!" and "How did you manage to put so much in there!"

The Daughter and I love them because of the pesto sauce. It's that green paste you see in the picture above, spread like goo all over the wrap. Here, I've used black pepper beef, shallots, tomato bits and pineapple. Sometimes, I use sliced crispy pork belly that I buy from Cold Storage. The leftovers of a roast chicken works great too!

Sweet basil is a key ingredient in pesto sauce, which is delicious and very versatile. I use it on spaghetti with prawns, crusty bread with tomato bits, ham and pineapple. Or if I feel like a more elaborate meal, I make seafood risotto with pesto sauce. It's all good. That kind of explains why my pot of sweet basil is so precious and also why it never gets really big. Miam! Miam! Miam!

And you won't believe how easy it is to make. All you need is pine nuts, salt, raw garlic, sweet basil leaves, olive oil and a blender. Throw everything in and blend into a smooth paste that looks like this.

Then, spread it on anything you like. The Daughter even spreads it on chocolate cake. Now, how disgusting is that?!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Xiang Gua Gua

I feel so encouraged to blog now... a little ball of happy excitement sits in the bottom of my stomach as I sit and type this out. You see, a few people (aside from Blur Ting the sunshine farm girl) have been kind enough to tell me they like reading my blog. So here I am, in my pajamas, smiling broadly at my computer screen... blogging.

I haven't brushed my teeth.

The thing about growing vegetables and fruits at home is that one reveals too much. The children have smelled and seen all manner of other creative concoctions that my whim and fancy puts together - worm pee, chicken shit tea, evaporated milk solution, fish emulsion... Most days, my garden attacks my family with smells - sometimes nice and sometimes not. So, when I presented them a plate of xiang gua, they all eyed it suspiciously.

"Come on! Eat!" I said. "It won't bite you! You are supposed to bite it!" And gingerly, under my penetrating gaze, they each take a piece. There were all sorts of ungrateful comments like "Mom, are you sure it can be eaten?" Someone smallish in size even said "Why are you feeding us only the melon skin? What happened to the meat in the middle?"

There IS no meat in the middle, darling! The xiang gua fruit is very interesting. It tastes like honey dew, but its skin can be eaten. When all cut up like in the above, the slices look like left over melon skin to be thrown away.

Anyway, I sat there with my lips pursed and about to unleash the full fury of my " you ungrateful wretches" spiel. The Husband quickly commented how surprisingly sweet the fruit was. The Daughter picks up his initiative with "Ah! Very crunchy mommy!". Little Boy sat there and ate up

So, I guess... 2 months of slushing about with tea and compost and worms and shit was worth it!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Time Stood Still

Snapshots from my childhood peeked from the street corners of Malacca like old friends from a time I had thought lost forever. I remember these sights from the time I was 5, and at that time, they already looked aged to me. I strolled down memory lane after memory lane.

Malaysians have special secrets to sauces. Ostensibly, you are eating yong tau fu and that should be no different from yong tau fu over here... But no, you are quite mistaken. The black sauce that drenches the "mouse noodles" accompanying your yong tau fu has a special something. With the first mouthful, I closed my eyes and shrank back into the 5 year old I used to be in Kuala Lumpur. It must be lard.

Oh sinful lard!

And then there was cendol. Every year, when Chinese New Year came around. We made a pilgrimage from KL to Singapore and stopped by this I-dunno-where place to get a tall cendol. Every year, I looked forward to that cendol. Not too rich with lemak. Not too sweet. With finely ground ice.

I read somewhere once "The past is a foreign land." It was impossible to describe to my children the sights and sounds and smells of my childhood, and it felt good to show them the foreign land from whence I came.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The 2-Storey Worm Bin

Here is the 2-storey worm bin. The black tape blocks out the light so the wormies can munch mush in murkiness. The Husband helped me to drill holes at the bottom of the worm bin so that worm tea (or pee) would flow out to the container below. Then, I happily collect the worm pee and water my plants.

I am told that worm pee/tea contains a whole host of different bacteria which help to break down organic matter so that plants can more easily absorb nutrients from the soil. There is also bacteria that will attack insects such as mealybugs in order to eat the sweet sugars that can be found in such soft bodied insects. Another theory holds that the bacteria converts sugars in the soil to alcohol and the plants die of alcohol poisoning because they haven't any livers... but that doesn't quite make sense to me because alcohol is usually made from fermenting yeast. It is vinegar that that results from bacterial fermentation.

Anyway, who cares what the theory is. The important thing is that my plants love worm tea and soft bodied insects that feed on plant sap, hate it.

Here is the vermicomposting pile. The worms are hiding in there somewhere. There's quite a whole bunch too! The supplier who sold them to me was quite generous with his 100g of worms. He was also very thorough in the way he quizzed me about worm care. He gave me great advice that I followed to a T. My worms love their new home.

I've been making apple crumble and pear crumble about once a week because the children are home for the holidays and they love crumbles. That means there is quite a pile of apple and pear peelings. I put the whole pile into the blender and store the mush in the fridge. Every 3 days, dear wormies get 200ml of mush mixed into their bedding.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Behold Petunia's Brew!

80 litres of worm tea... well, I don't know whether it is properly worm tea. Perhaps I should just call it Petunia's Brew. It is really something My Brew!

I filled a large black garbage pail with water, threw in generous fistfuls chicken shit, worm shit, 6 tablespoons of sugar and one third of a can of evaporated milk. I put the lid on and patiently waited 3 days. I uncovered it this morning... and boy oh boy! It looked like a sarsi vanilla ice cream float but it sure didn't smell like one.

The approach was perilous even for an intrepid gardener such as I! One had to duck the occasional bursting bubbles that sent noxious vapours into one's face. I begin to wonder if garden-friendly bacteria is any good for the complexion because I was practically steaming my face in those fumes.

I am quite sure that students in the school opposite sniffed the air wondering whether a chemical plant nearby had experienced mishap. I once drove in front of a tuna processing plant in Mauritius which needed to get rid of rotting fish waste (heads and tails and innards and all) on a daily basis... This was nowhere near that. It was much worse.

I guess I was over enthousiastic. The Husband could only sigh and shake his head for he knows that his beloved Wife does all in abundance. Love in abundance. Cook in abundance. And of course, brew Petunia's Brew in abundance. Being ever the intrepid gardener, I braved the fumes and watered every pot in my garden. Normally, I stick around to see if the plant smiles its thanks at me... but not today. It was more like scoot over, water the pot and scoot off. Scooting quite fast too!

Little Boy has a way with words. He explained the situation thus: "If you spill just a little drop of it on your t-shirt and walk through the house, you will leave a trail of smelly air!!" In other words, this is perfume... with top notes from a cesspit and bottom notes of vomit.

I have 40 litres left to use. No! I ain't throwing it away. I will feed it to my plants and suffer another day. This ain't beating me! But that's absolutely the LAST time I make 80 litres of worm tea.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Smelly? Where got?

I bought a large water bottle and put in 2 large fistfuls of worm castings (worm shit) and 1 tablespoon of evaporated milk. I placed it in the sun for 3 days. On Day 1, the water was cloudy and there were copious gas bubbles as the bacteria from the worm shit digested the lactose from the milk. On Day 2, the water was clear and there was a layer of curdled milk at the bottom of the bottle and layer of worm shit floating on the water surface. On Day 3, I added 10 pellets of chicken shit, which promptly disintegrated into a brown tea coloured layer at the bottom.

Yesterday, I strained the mixture through some wet tissue and diluted with about 10 litres of aged water. It was soooooooooo satisfying to see the white vapour rising from the solution in pungent waves of gaseous discharge. I sprayed all my plants and my whole family protested loudly.

I couldn't understand why.

It didn't smell bad to me. This just goes to show that the human mind is adaptable and quickly associates smells with good and bad according to the consequences that follow. For me, all the bacteria and white gaseous discharge from my solution had good consequences. They protected my plants from whitefly and mealybugs. The mixture was nutritious as the bacteria had broken down the chicken shit into a form easily absorbed by the plants. My xiang gua doubled in size overnight.

The smell was pungent... but to me, not unpleasant... like durian, like cheese, like fermented toufu. But to my family, it smelled like a cesspit. They stared at me in horror as I splashed my shirt and sprayed my hair as I sprayed my plants. And my husband asked if that smell was going to hang about his beloved wife for very long because he could not bear to hug me whilst so perfumed. Happily, it went off from me after a bath, but I did notice that no one went into the garden yesterday.

I am so happy that I am now making 80 litres of worm tea. Heh! Heh! Heh! I'm even thinking that this might be used as a crime deterrent. Ladies going home late at night could carry a dousing can and douse the assailant. Any sort of unholy desire would be quite effectively extinguished and the smell would lead you straight to whomever was about to do an unholy deed. Added to that, the bacteria would probably colonise his face effectively and he would have to cope with some unwelcome pathogens in his mouth, nose and eyes.

Gee... I am a dangerous woman.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Woman in My Future

Someday, somehow, somewhere in time
She's waiting, I will see
An old woman, time is making
Time is making out of me!

Will she be a sad complainer,
A fretful tenant of this earth?
Or a kind, productive person
Filled with happiness and mirth?

Please be patient, God is making
Molding slowly, out of me
A shining portrait , He has promised.
Just you wait and see.

He is smoothing out the roughness
Polishing the dreary places
Filling life with joy and gladness
Pouring out his gifts and graces.

God remake me, in Your image.
I want to like her, when I see
That old woman, time is making
Time is making out of me.

By Ruth Baird Shaw

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


After years of drinking dandelion tea from teabags, and pouncing on dandelion leaves like a hungry rabbit whenever 5-star hotels serve them as part of some swanky reception buffet, I have gone back to the simpler life. I have now begun to grow the weed. All thanks to a kind lady in Australia who grows them to eat. I have a whole mound of seeds, and must remember to give some to Prana whom I know has been pining for them.

I've started 16 hydroponic cups of dandelion, and I look forwards to harvesting seeds and leaves in 30 days. I hope and hope and hope that dandelion roots are not susceptible to root rot. Tomorrow, I will start 6 plants in a trough and we'll see how well those do. Dandelion leaves are bitter. They do well when paired with a sharp vinaigrette further sharpened with a Dijon mustard. I've placed the hydroponics kits in a sunny location of my apartment out of the rain.