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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ni-Tamago Eggs

Hello blog! I have missed you. Did you miss me? I've been busy you see. But in the midst of the busy-ness, my stomach called. And no Petunia in her right mind ignores the stomach. As luck would have it, someone wise, generous and full of good spirit had posted in the GCS Forum a ni-tamago egg recipe.

The ni-tamago egg is my favourite egg of all eggs. It's what you get in ramen shops... you know, the sort that has a firm white and a runny middle, and it is swimming zen-like in a clear brown soup? You meditate gently over the egg and then you slurp it up.

Here they are. Before slurp. Hee!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quack Flu Remedy

To begin, let me state that I am not a qualified herbalist. I am however, an old wife of sorts. So, I have a collection of old wives' remedies. Some of them are rather odd. This one here is very odd.

There is a standing instruction in our family that at the very first sign of an itchy throat or an itchy nose, I must be told. Thenceforth, the person becomes my patient (of sorts).

I will then get my unfortunate patient (of sorts) to lie down on the bed and tip his/her head up so that I can gain access to his/her nostrils. I then dip my cotton bud into the 15% tea tree oil solution, after which I dip it in a glass of water. I insert this water-cum-tea tree oil soaked cotton bud gently into my wild-eyed patient's nostrils. First one nostril, and then the other nostril, with a new clean cotton bud.

More often than not, this hapless member of my family will sit up violently, coughing and sneezing. His/her eyes will turn quite red and the nose will take on an interestingly pink tinge - like a Santa Claus with too much beer in him. This treatment is repeated 3 times a day for 3 days and the flu never quite gets a chance to take root before it is gone.

At least, that is what this old wife thinks...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Boy and an Ice Cream

On his way home with Grandma on Mondays, Little Boy has to wait whilst Grandma picks up bread and milk. It so happens that there is a large and inviting chest of ice cream delights just right there and quite just so. I am told that for a good many Mondays, Little Boy has been gazing longingly at the various ice creams.

It must feel so good huh... an ice cream on a hot sweltering day? The creamy sweetness all cold and invigorating first wakes up the tongue and slides down the throat, settling gently into the stomach. Have an ice cream... and the world, with its neverending homework and irritating school exams, suddenly feels like a better place.

Anyway, ice cream is very much discouraged in our family. Little children and ice creams invariably lead to coughs, fevers and multiple trips to the doctor, not to mention disquieted nights and a whining child. The children know and understand and are generally very well-behaved in the face of an aggressive ice cream. The ice cream says "Eat me!" And my children say "No!" Often enough to make me proud.

To his credit, Little Boy bore up very well under the excruciating Monday temptations for the past 2 months. He did not ask to have one, and he did not mention his regular Monday mental tortures even when I put him to bed with a night time chat. He bore his burden stoically and alone.

But Grandma, witnessing such heroic efforts at self-control, came home and chatted with me. She represented the combined forces of Grandpa and Grandma. It was made clear to me by these old folks that my son had suffered quite enough, and that it would be cruelty of the highest order to not allow at least half an ice cream on those especially hot Mondays. And that the two old folks would not tolerate that their grandson be further denied the basic necessities of a happy childhood.

I had to agree.

So, I put Little Boy on my lap and asked him about his hidden life of terrible temptation. We revisited all the times where he had made himself ill because I had left the decision to him, and he had chosen the wrong path. Then, I explained that he might try with half an ice cream, not more than once in 2 weeks.

It was then that I realized the true extent of his longing. He gave me this look of wild eyed desperation and declared "Mom, I would rather have ONE WHOLE ice cream once a month than eat only HALF every 2 weeks". I just wasn't sure his body could process a large dose of refined sugar all at once, and I dread it when he falls ill. And I said so. Happily, Little Boy was willing to agree that half an ice cream was better than weeks of coughing.

I must say that I am so very pleased with Little Boy. He could have wheedled an ice cream from Grandma, but he didn't. When Grandma offered to buy him one, he could have accepted and not mentioned it to me... but instead, he refused saying that it would make me sad. So, our family has addressed this thorny issue lovingly, reasonably and with integrity.

Now that is something to be happy about, no?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Scatterseed's House of Light and Air

I grew up in a succession of houses from small to medium, to one which was positively large, where a single bedroom is the size of a 4-room HDB flat. Over time, I had come to the conclusion that unless it's a farm house that exists on its own piece of land, surrounded on all sides by sunlight and wide expanses, a house can be a rather claustrophobic thing.

Since I am prone to claustrophobic panic attacks, living in a house within a densely built cluster of other houses seemed far less appealing than living in a penthouse up high where the wind howls through the house and the sun barges in without permission. So it was that I snuggled into The Husband's arms last week, murmuring that growing old in our penthouse would be just lovely if farming wasn't practical for us.

But I changed my mind today.

Scatterseed's house has redefined my notion of what a house in Singapore can be. In the middle of the house, located at what would have been the darkest corner, this house had an empty wall of dark grey decorated only with a tiny stainless steel table at the bottom right corner. This dark and depressing wall would have given me a panic attack except that it was lit up from above by rays of sunlight diving in through a clear glass roof, and a flight of stairs entirely made of clear tempered glass.

Many people don't realize that less is more... that simplicity is elegance... that emptiness can satisfy. Scatterseed decorated her house with pure living sunlight which poured in from every place that it wasn't supposed to. And so it was that the empty wall, with its stainless steel table, made my spirit full.

There is beauty that I appreciate consciously. I can appreciate a Prada handbag or a pair of Jimmy Choos as well as the next gal. Whilst I will never buy them, I can understand why others do... and I can squeal excitedly with the best bag gals of my acquaintance. Ornate sculptures and gilded mirrors and antique furniture are lovely too. I know they are beautiful and I honestly think they are.

But there is another type of beauty that resonates with my soul. Scatterseed's house full of sunlight resonated to the point that I felt like bursting. This is the first house I have seen in my life that has ever spoken so loudly to my heart. And of a sudden... I want a house... not a farm house, but a house in the middle of a cluster of other houses in claustrophobic Singapore.

So now... if I can't have a farm house, then a house is good... but I want one where the sunlight barges in to play in corners where it usually isn't allowed to.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Poetry in Motion

I work with a lovely woman whom I shall call EY. She's a woman of grace, strength and intelligence... very kind and sensitive to the feelings of others. It's wonderful to work with her because she never makes me feel inadequate even though I sometimes truly am. People like that make me feel like giving my best at work and doing better each time.

When you interact with a woman like that, you develop an intuition that her children would have shining talent too, for mothers like her know exactly how to cultivate talent and build character. True enough, I discovered today that EY's daughter has a dance scholarship and intends to make a career of dance. But when I saw pictures of her dancing daughter, it wasn't so much the child that came to mind, but the qualities of the mother.

Poetry in motion. The most striking thing about a sylph-like dancer pirouetting in mid-air is beauty. Every movement is beautiful, conveying the grace and elegance of the womanly form. It is easy to mistake such gazelle like grace for softness. Yet, my logical mind tells me that flying through the air looking light as snow cannot be done without muscles of steel in every part of a young dancer's body.I sure wouldn't want to stand in the way of her pirouette for the force of it would throw me quite across the room.

So too is the exercise of kindness - the outward softness and grace belies the strength it takes a normal human being to be kind. A kind person needs to have the emotional steel to control the very human emotions such as anger and hurt, which lead us to strike back fast and hit out viciously. A kind person must surely possess the emotional steel to hold back the recoil of arrogance before it springs up and hurts another. A kind person would surely have the strength to put others before self. In summary, if you are kind then you must be strong too, no?

And then, let us reason further... what would happen if a kind person were to be so sorely tested that despite every great internal strength, righteous anger pours forth in a river of fury targeted at someone or something? Would that not be like getting hit on the side of the face by a dancer's leg coming out of a pirouette?

You know, for The Husband, that is so. Always kind and always selfless but on the rare occasions where he is angry, he strikes with neither fear nor favour. He does not lose because the strength that was channelled inwards to self-control bursts forth and overwhelms with no effort at all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Worm eggs? Worm babies?

The Gotu Kola That Isn't

Some time back, I wrote about the gotu kola.

Since then, some kind and well-informed folks have shared with me that what I have in my pots is not really gotu kola (or centella asiatica) but something called hydrocotyle verticillata, Now, I do hope I have spelled that right! I thought I should acknowledge the input of these wonderful folks and correct my incorrect posting. And also to let these people (concerned about whether I am slowly poisoning myself) know that I appreciate their concerns about my safety.

The real gotu kola looks like this.

Yet a gotu kola by any other name works as well, and we've been eating this herb for about 2 years now. It's our family's herb of choice for staying young, energetic and mentally sharp. Everyone takes a few leaves a day and even though we don't like the taste, we like how we feel afterwards. We feel tired at the right time, sleep deeper, dream more vividly and wake up feeling refreshed. Best of all, it's been easier for me to maintain a glowing complexion and healthy hair ever since we started on this herb. It really was this complexion thing that got me hooked. I had noticed my own dull complexion during a trip to Japan... and was sad for a few days thinking "Oh gosh! Look at me! I look like the crypt keeper or the morgue attendant!"

2 months ago, an Israeli gentleman selling Dead Sea mudpacks looked at me sceptically when I assured him that I don't use anything except baby soap on my face. I should have told him about my gotu kola then, but I was somewhat miffed that he obviously thought I was lying. But then again, I was also glad because it proved that the hydrocotyle verticillata had worked very well indeed.

The Husband too is hooked because ever since we started on this regularly, his haemorrhoids (piles) have gone quite away.

And the reason why I am so sure this herb can be eaten is that in Little India, bunches of this are sold as a vegetable for making vegetable dahl. I reckon that the savvy use of Indian spices must bring out the taste of gotu kola in a way that I am unable to with a garlic stir fry.

We've begun to pace our consumption though. We take it for a week, and then stop for another, and then resume again. Having eaten the herb and feeling its effects, I am inclined to think that it is a very potent herb. I've learnt to respect herbs as powerful drugs, and I fear developing a herb dependency by overdosing myself.

I blush to confess that in the past, I have given myself constipation with an overdose of lemon juice (3 times daily for a month), a thrush infection with too much green tea (3 times daily for 2 months). I even put The Husband in hospital with comfrey tea (that was just once or twice). And I don't suppose you want to know that The Daughter developed gastric problems from an overdose of my garlic cough syrup (4 times a day for a week)?

So yes, I've learnt to respect the drugs in God's pharmacopeia in order not to do harm to myself. Hee!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Only the Lovely May Pass

I am inspired to write this after reading Blur Ting's blog entitled The Letter. Ting and I have a lot in common and the similarities go much deeper into our psyches than simply "Oh, we both like gardening" and "Oh, we both love to cook, clean house and live on a farm." There is a reason that both our blogs resonate with warmth and positivity. Some might even say gullible naiveté... and cynical others might say impractical idealism... and jaded others yet might say bimbotic innocence.

You see, Ting and I both hold, as deeply precious and infinitely valuable the emotional discipline of being happy. Happiness is a choice, we both believe. Of course, most people want to be happy. But with Ting and I, it isn't merely wanting happiness... we are both ferociously determined to be happy.

It isn't that we are childish or stupid or have not met the ugly, the bad and the evil. Oh yes, we have! If you knew the monsters that had peopled both our lives, you would go pale at how our spirits writhed in prolonged agony, imprisoned in a place with no escape. In every garden, there are mealy bugs and spider mites that eat away at life and all that is beautiful. In every life, there is pain and sorrow. But in the richness of what life offers to inconsequential humans like us, why focus on the bugs if you can focus on the plant... why see the shadows of the garden, if there is also light... why suffer the heat of the sun and not see its role in the verdant growth of your little patch of paradise.

And that is why I love my garden through rain or shine, bare twigs or full, soil mealies or not. I love its touch. I love the smells. I love the colours. I love the songs the garden sings on days when the sun beats down on the black tar of Singapore's roads.

Back when I was young and in a lot of pain, a very wise friend gave me this advice. You cannot change the past, you can only grow the future. In the tapestry of your life, there is a hole... so big and so wide that everyone notices it. You cannot change the size of that hole. You cannot patch it up and make it whole. You cannot make it smaller. It will forever stay there and stay that size. But darling, you can choose. You can choose to embroider around that hole, vibrant colours and beautiful forms, and as you grow the tapestry of your life stitch by stitch by stitch, the hole will one day become insignificant compared to the loveliness all around. And the day will come when no one will even notice that there is a hole. The day will also come when you will yourself forget that there is a hole.

And so, I have focused on growing my plants and helping them thrive. I changed a barren space with hot stones and hostile sun into a retreat where the sun kisses my skin and caresses my hair. It is not a triumph over nature, for I have not changed the intensity of the sun. It is the trick of befriending the sun by accepting who it is without complaint. In essence, what I am trying to say is that whilst we can do little about the pain that life throws at us, we can still make it give us joy.

So Ting and I choose happiness at every... every... every... turn. And like Gandalf facing the fiery Balrog in the mines of Moria, we stand at the narrow passage between Unhappiness and the ones whom we love. Faces ablaze with relentless kindness and implacable love, we face monsters great and small, and we softly say "You shall not pass."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Petunia's Apple Pie

I made an apple pie today, and it looked so pretty that I took a picture. It isn't often that my cooking looks good, and if you look carefully, the button in the middle that should be in the centre, is actually off centre. Sigh!

But the smell is divine. It's funny how well apple and cinnamon and butter come together in an orchestra of tastes so full and rich that it attracts every five to 70 year old within a 10 metre radius. From every part of the house, they float over to the dining table, and when I am not looking, fingers reach out to pinch away bits of crust. Then, my apple pie looks like the mice got there first.

Today, it actually looks like Grandma's Apple Pie. I just had to take a picture.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Behind the Bamboo Curtain

When we bought this penthouse, I fell in love with the blazing tropical sun that muscled itself into the house every afternoon. No gardener himself, the previous owner was besieged by the sun behind 2 layers of curtains. I had noted even then that it was to no avail. Where light could not get through, heat could. The sun does not spare the roofs of a penthouse.

When I moved in, I removed all the curtains except for those absolutely required to protect our after-bath selves from prying eyes. Where the view is unblocked, there are no cloth curtains at all. And I allowed the sun to romp into my home like a herd of galloping Arabian stallions. The sun's exuberance, like everything wild in nature was intimidating and uncomfortable. We needed to tame it. And tame it we did. With bamboo curtains.

The grove of bamboo outside The Husband's study has gently tamed the sun's heat without breaking its spirit. Playfully, dappled sunlight scampers into the room and makes me smile. The once hottest room has become the coolest one behind the bamboo curtain.

With the strong gusts of wind that we get way up high in a penthouse, I feared that the too tall pot of bamboo downstairs with a tiny base of a pot would simply flop over the balcony walls and plummet to someone else's death below. Seeing me about to cut the bamboo down to size, the Little Boy had an idea. He absolutely hates it when I prune the plants; and he refuses to understand that plants, like children, need to be pruned and disciplined to grow up right. So, to stop me from pruning the bamboo, he suggested that we bend two tall stems towards each other and tie them together in the middle. This forms an arch outside my bedroom door, and my room has suddenly become much cooler.

I think the magic of the bamboo lies in its ability to absorb heat and light energy to use it for photosynthesis... such that, any light that comes through loses its savageness and becomes civilized. Unlike drapes and curtains which throw a room into darkness and one's spirit into despair, a bamboo curtain plays with the light and makes the spirit glad.

Truly, there is nothing man can make, that God cannot make better... and that also means curtains.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Rosemary Tragedy

I have soil mealies in my rosemary. They're white and oval shaped... about the size of a full stop. They crawl about inside the soil, attach themselves to plant roots, sink in their sharp fangs and feed feed feed... They slurp and they suck and they swallow and when they are satiated, they have a lot a lot of sex and make a lot a lot of babies. Then, their babies also slurp and suck and swallow and have a lot of sex and make a lot of babies. They are disgusting creatures.

Worse than lice in a whorehouse.

To have them in a pot is to hear the sound of a death knell for the plant. So many times I have watched helplessly as a plant goes from green with big leaves to yellow with small leaves and finally, no leaves at all. Just dry twigs.

Oh why did this have to happen to my rosemary? They are such beautiful plants and I had plans to grow old with them. I imagined myself at 70 years, pottering amongst my pots of rosemary and proudly declaring to all my grandchildren "These plants are 40 years old". I imagined my rosemary plants with gnarly bark and knotted branches sitting there and sharing stories with me over a cuppa of worm tea.

With such a grand vision of the future in my head, I have resolved that I will not lose this war. I know I have sat by the death bed of many past plants holding their hand as they slip into unconsciousness, unable to withstand the inexorable suck-suck-sucking of the soil mealies. This time though, I will not lose. I intend to grow old with my rosemary.

So, I waged my first battle today. I took very hot bath water. Hot enough to hurt the skin but not hot enough to scald the skin. I mixed in liberal squirts of dishwash and then I submerged the whole pot of rosemary soil. With evil satisfaction, I watched as the soil mealies wriggled in agony and then died and went to hell. I think that if I repeat this treatment often enough, I will get them good.

Oh... I do so hope!