Penang asam laksa

Penang asam laksa

If there is a signature dish for Penang nyonya cuisine, it would be the tangy, sour yet salty and superbly fishy asam laksa. The base for this dish calls for fish stock, specifically made with mackerel or sardine (in Malaysia, it would be the ikan kembong) followed by a healthy dose of spices and an assortment of garnishing ingredients.

It is a labour intensive dish as the fish is first boiled in hot water, then taken out to have its flesh removed before putting the bones (and head) back into water; as the stock is cooking away, there are the spices that need to be mixed up and the garnishing ingredients – cucumber, pineapple, onion, mint and chillies – to be sliced up. Food processors can be used but no real Nyonya would ever use this modern invention; the taste would simply be different AND I can attest to that. Finely slicing garnishing ingredients by hand allows you to taste each ingredient and its crunchy texture instead of the pulpy mess which only changes the flavour of the broth.

Since spices needed for this dish can be difficult to obtain in Switzerland, Mum thought of another solution – pre-mix assam laksa spice packs. So she bought a pack of Hup Loong Asam Laksa (more info on the ingredients and the packaging here) over with her when she came, just so I could try it out. Instructions at the back ask for an addition of ground onions, a can of sardines to normal boiling water and salt for taste. While it is certainly easy, I found the initial taste to be somewhat bland. There just wasn’t enough “oomph” and after having had many asam laksa meals, yes, you could say I knew what I was talking about. Even Nil found it a bit on the “no flavour” side. So some adjustments were made (as usual) in the form of tamarind pulp, fish stock granules (and a quick attempt at making some fish stock with fish bones and etc), sugar and shrimp paste.

Garnishings that are a must are cucumbers, pineapples, mint and chillies plus a sprinkling of onions; don’t forget a good dose of dark liquid shrimp paste or hae ko. Do not confuse this shrimp paste with its salty sister, the belachan. Two fundamental differences – hae ko is sweet and nearly black whereas belachan is salty and grey. Some people also sprinkle fried shallots for that added crunch. Note, only sweet pineapples ought to be used to offset the sour and salty taste of the broth. If fresh pineapples aren’t available (like in my case), use those from cans.

The result? Asam laksa that is, frankly, to die for! 8)

Penang asam laksa

Ingredients

1 pack Hup Loong Asam Laksa
500 gms mackerel
200 gms rice noodles or rice vermicelli (beehoon)
400 gms ground onions
1 medium sized cucumber
1 can pineapple in syrup – drained and finely sliced
1 can of sardines in oil
3 heaped tsps fish stock granules
3 heaped tsps sugar
1 heaped tsps shrimp paste
A handful of chillies
A few sprigs of mint
Tamarind pulp (add water)
Salt to taste

Method

  1. Clean the mackerel by removing the fins, innards and gills before placing them in hot boiling water to cook. After five to 10 minutes, remove from the water and separate the flesh from the bones (spine namely), tail and head. Put the flesh aside in the fridge and place the remaining pieces (bones, head and tail) back into the water to simmer for at least an hour or more.
  2. In the meantime, finely sliced the cucumber, pineapples and chillies; set aside in the fridge once done.
  3. In a pot, prepare the broth as per instructions on the Hup Loong pack (minus about 500 ml of water; the fish stock will make up for this) – this includes adding in the sardines together with ground onions. Don’t forget to add the fish stock by straining and removing the bones.
  4. Add the tamarind pulp water by straining the liquid followed by the fish stock granules, sugar and shrimp paste. Taste the pulp and adjust by either adding more sugar/salt/fish stock granules/tamarind pulp. The broth should be a balance of salty, sour and fishy. Add about 1/4 of the fish flesh to the broth and simmer gently for at least 30 minutes – the longer, the better.
  5. When it’s time to serve, prepare the noodles as per instructions or by either cooking them in hot water until they are soft and strain before placing in a deep bowl. Add a handful of fish flesh, pineapples, cucumber, mint and chillies before pouring a healthy serving of broth.
  6. Serve hot and as is or garnish with fried shallots and a spoon of hae ko.

NOTE: When serving asam laksa, the broth must be bubbling hot to maintain its flavour. Cold asam laksa IS NOT a joy to eat.

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The first sale!!!

The shop saw its first sale today…and from an unplanned addition! w00t!!!!!!

*cough*

Of course there are some details that require further revision and more brainstorming but yes, I am excited! Hopefully this will be the first of many to come. In the meantime, I’m back to churning out more goodies from the dyepot – I ought to get a super large 3-tier steamer but we’ll see how it goes…

8)

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Gerbils and gnawing

A gerbil’s teeth are constantly growing – similar to guinea pigs, rabbits, etc – and as such, they require hard objects such as wood, branches and logs to gnaw on. Failure to provide such objects to gerbils (or any other similar animal) often results in overgrown teeth which can lead to starvation and pain.

I’ve set up their main tank with a few log tunnels but decided to add a little more in their playpen which is connected via a tunnel. Anything is game really, as long as it isn’t plastic and is safe to swallow – things like cardboard, pine cones and more logs. Since my mother-in-law has a few apple trees in her garden, I thought it’d be nice to throw in some branches as well. I sunned them together with the pine cones for a few days and toss them into the playpen.

As you can see, they were an instant hit!

pic_scratch_01.09.08_a pic_scratch_01.09.08_b pic_emile_01.09.08_a pic_gerbils_01.09.08

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Via ferrata – the new sport!

Since arriving in Switzerland (and being married to Nil), I have been introduced to a few new things in my life, things that I’m beginning to enjoy doing despite my fear of heights and all. Climbing is one of them and specifically, via ferrata.

It is rather popular European sport that is similar to rock climbing. It is basically a mountain route equipped with cables, ladders, bridges and rungs for either to hold onto or step on. You don’t go in there without any equipment – that’s just silly! Compulsory equipments for via ferrata are similar to those used for rock climbing; a harness, helmet, appropriate shoes & clothing plus a ferrata kit consisting of two lengths of rope, a brake and carabiners (it’s like a closed hook of some sorts). Additional gear may include gloves and climbing straps.

The whole thing is pretty simple. Carabiners are hooked onto cables available at via ferrata routes and you just climb your way up. Easy routes are mostly ones that require little skill and for beginners that have no experience with climbing or via ferratas at all. To simply put it, if you have vertigo and you have no experience climbing, don’t be a hero and opt for routes marked “difficult” (difficile) or “experienced”.

So far, I’ve gone for three via ferrata routes – one in France during my summer holidays there and two in Switzerland. They both vary in the fact that the one is France is somewhat like a via ferrata park with a variety of obstacles (single rope things, a gorge and so forth). For someone like myself who has mild vertigo (translate: I do well with gradual increases of height but poorly around cliff edges), it was just perfect. In fact, it was a fun yet easy course.

The one in Noraigue, near Neuchâtel was more of the cliff-side variety (click on the link and you’ll see), which resulted in me bursting into tears twice and Nil getting worried that we were never going to make it through the route. We got stuck in one part where you were basically hanging off a cliff edge with the carabines hooked onto the cable and rungs for your feet. That was it. Needless to say, I don’t really relish the idea of going back there again.

Yesterday, we tried the one at Rougemont, specifically Videmanette. Located near Lake Geneva, the climb offers a gorgeous view of the Swiss countryside and mountains, not to mention some mountain goats. The route is accessible through a train ride from Montreaux – Golden Panaromanic services (read: fabulous mountain scenery) – and then a cable car ride up to the peaks from the base station at Videmanette. We took Route 1 because the ladies (I met up with Nil’s friend and girlfriend) felt that we weren’t up for the harder route and found ourselves at the main peak of Rubli at 2,285 metres before heading back via the same way. Oh, I would have taken pictures but we had a bit of a drama in the morning so the only pics of the trip are with Nil’s friend. O’well…fab excuse to go again, no? 😉

Anyway, if you do come to France or Switzerland (and other parts of Europe), do ditch the commercial guided tours and try this out! It does great wonders for the body…and well, it’s just fun! 😎

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Venetian Harlequin

Venetian Harlequin completed!

Venetian Harlequin
Length | slight over 61?
Width | 11?
Fringe | 13? double knotted

It took a while for me to finish this piece because of distractions (family matters, other hobbies, etc) and brainstorming for the shop. Instead of the three days, I took over two weeks (me thinks)! I really ought to find a way to concentrate on my pieces instead of losing focus and switching to something else like dyeing.

Oh! I’ll say it now – I simple love how the colours flow over! Nil thinks that it’s very Scottish kilt-like even though Scot kilts are more reds and greens than purple, red and yellow. Do you see now why Lapis Lazuli is following a similar weave pattern?

Anyway, this will be up in the shop come September when I have more weaved up for sale then. I’m hoping to come up with at least three more colours for this series, so wish me lots of luck!!!! 🙂

…On a completely different note, ever since I got pregnant, these nasty pimples have never failed to show up. I do get an occasional one or two popping up when my period comes a-calling (ah, the perks of PMS) but this is getting crazy!

What’s worse is that they aren’t small but those huge under the crater type which are painful more than anything else. I don’t know if it’s because of my cream, the weather or just the fact that I’ve changed my facial routine a few times over the past few months.

So really, what’s the best acne treatment around? I’m desperate and well, while it isn’t really much of an issue, I still don’t like seeing them pop up, especially around the forehead and sides (where my hair covers and my specs sit – great!).

ARGH! This is so not nice. 🙁

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Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli
Waft & Weft Yarn | Four Seasons Gründl Sunshine (variegated blue), Manor Home Carina in Dark Blue, Manor Home Jasmine in Royal Blue and Manor Home New Baby Uni in Sky Blue
Reed | 7.5 dpi
Ends | 96 ends

Following the steps of Venetian Harlequin, I decided to do a series of weaves that would showcase checkerboard-like patterns in a variety of colours. I’m modelling them after gemstones and as such, this one is aptly named Lapis Lazuli.

I’m not really a big fan of blue but I love how striking and bright this looks. Am definitely looking forward to seeing it off the loom in its full glory!

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The shop is finally up!

Shop's finally up!

When I first arrived in Switzerland, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy finding a job, so I spend most of my time concentrating on my other hobbies. Along the way, I picked up a few more and somehow, someone somewhere suggested that I might want to consider “expanding” into a little mini-business. I wasn’t exactly sure if that was what I wanted in the first but after months of thinking, deliberating and hammering out ideas/details with Nil, it’s finally starting to take shape.

Most of the groundwork is already completely and Simple Scarves is now ready for viewing, albeit empty e-shelves. I do have a few things up for sale but the official first sale will kick off sometime around middle of September. Right now, handwoven scarves and handpainted rovings are on the list but I’m hoping to add some handpainted yarn or handspun yarn and other handwoven items like placemats and so forth by next year…

So if you’re ever free (or even if you’re not), hop on by and check out what’s available at the store!

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