Monday, May 29, 2006

Spaghetti Meatballs!

A quick one today, while my children are watching TV. Due to the school mid term holidays, the eldest has been hogging the PC since this morning and was on it the whole of yesterday so I could not indulge in any bit of writing/ typing at all these few days, to my disappointment.

This is for a friend who asked for a meatball recipe. My family has gotten a little tired of spaghetti bolognaise and so I looked for an 'alternative' and found this recipe a few months ago and of course tweaked it a bit for my own taste buds and the result is, I think, good. My husband and I love it although my children will have none of it – they never want the meat in any spaghetti sauce anyway, be it mutton, beef, chicken or seafood in whatever forms; plain, mini balls, boxes and pyramids being the forms and shapes that I have painstakingly tried making. But the tomatoes in the sauce – they just love, and so to me it is still worth the effort to make any type of pasta with tomatoes in the sauce. But anyway, as I mentioned, my husband and I love it and so I’m sharing this with anyone who cares to try. It’s very simple. Here are the ingredients;

For meatballs:
250g minced meat
1 egg
1 slice of bread, shredded into small pieces (just by using your fingers)
salt to taste
garlic salt
1 tspn dried parsley
a sprinkle of black pepper
¼ tsp cumin seed, pounded (jintan putih)

A large jar of your favourite spaghetti sauce. (I use a 750g jar)
½ bombay onion
Salt to taste

Mix all meatball ingredients well and leave for a while in the fridge so that it will be easier for you to shape them into small size balls. Heat up your pot and add some olive oil to fry your onions for a bit before adding the sauce. Once it reaches boiling point, reduce the heat and let it simmer while you prepare the meatballs. In order to shape the meat into balls, take a handful of the meat mixture in your hand and squeeze so that the meat comes out in between your thumb and forefinger. Use a teaspoon to scoop and shape the meat mixture into small sized meatballs and drop them into a bowl (I normally make them just a little bigger than the fish balls back home). Once they are all ready, drop them slowly into the pot and increase heat for a while, slowly stirring initially so that the balls will not break or crumble. Again, reduce the heat once the sauce has reached boiling point and simmer for a while (25 to 30 minutes, I think), stirring once in a while. Add salt to taste.

Tip: Don’t forget to add some olive oil in your boiling water when cooking your spaghetti. Once cooked in the time as instructed on packet, drain and run cold water through it for a few seconds before melting a few dollops of butter on the still hot and steaming spaghetti. I just think it taste better this way. Try it!

(I apologise for the pic (for all my own pics for that matter), because I could not be bothered to take out my digicam each time I take any pics and so I just use the nearest camera around which is the camera on my hp! (Nokia n70). I find the pics are quite good when taken outdoors but inside the house, I need to switch on all my lights for a barely acceptable pic. Hope they don't hurt your artistic sensibilities too much.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

World Cup Guide for Girls

Well, well, well…the World Cup is coming next month brace yourselves! If you have no interest what so ever in above average looking men in shorts (exactly 22 of them scattered in a field) running around, pushing, shoving, kicking, swearing, sweating, jumping, all trying to have control over 1 small ball, then, you may not join my club because at least, I have some interest in the above average looking men, if not the uncivilised physical activities mentioned above.

So let’s understand it a bit, so that your boyfriends and husbands will be a little impressed with you and so that you won’t appear to be too ignorant of the most popular game in the world or the game that is also known as the ‘world’s favourite pastime’. No, I’m not going to explain to you the basics of football, because most of us know that already, right? (Just in case the answer to that question is NO, then maybe you should start here.) Yes, instead, I’m just going to tell you a little bit about The World Cup, how it works and some of the above categorized men in the most popular game in the world.

The World Cup is a tournament that is held every 4 years, the most recent being in 2002. Its organiser is FIFA, Federation Internationale de Football Association that is also the governing body for this sport. The event that will be held for 1 month starting from the 9th of June is really the ‘finals’ of the tournament as the qualifying rounds have been ongoing since 2003, 3 years before the World Cup Finals take place. Obviously, it was in one of these qualifying rounds that Malaysia failed to qualify for the grand final event (not surprisingly) where 32 countries that made it to the finals will be seen competing against each other for that most prestigious World Cup Trophy.

There will be 8 groups, Groups A–H, each group consisting of 4 teams from different countries that will compete against each other methodically and the winners of each group will proceed to the next round until the final round, where the 2 best teams fight it out for the trophy. The favourite for the championship is Brazil, a team which has already won the World Cup 5 times, including the most recent 2002 tournament. But other strong contenders are Germany, Italy, Argentina, France and also England who is indeed a very popular team, thanks to the popularity of David Beckham, Manchester United and the English League.

That’s all there is to it, girls..not complicated, like all other things that interest men. The game is interesting enough but as I said, you can’t disregard the players, their skills and their more than average good looks which all contribute to the popularity of the game. My personal favourites are Harry Kewell (pic right), the Australian Liverpool winger whose boyish good looks make my tooth ache each time I see him play and the renowned Barca footballer from Brazil, Ronaldinho (pic above, left). This man, although one may not categorise as handsome, to me, is so very attractive that my toes curl each time I see his pictures. What’s more intriguing, he is reputed to be very, very skilful in the bedroom as well…so that makes him pssss..SO HOT! Oh and another thing, he’s equally skilful on the field (as if that's of any importance...hehe). Two other players that come to mind is Hidetoshi Nakata (pic below, right) from Japan who is definitely the best-looking blonde Japanese I’ve ever seen and of course, Thierry Henry (look at him in the pic (above left), need I say more?).

But here in England, the fan’s interest is not limited to the game and footballers. They also poke their shiny red noses into the footballers’ personal lives, their wives, girlfriends, children, their expensive mansions and even the cars these footballers drive. You may not believe that Theo Walcott, 17, the youngest addition to the England’s team this year was not the only buzz on British telly a few weeks ago but also his girlfriend who was interviewed in the evening news! I did wonder what his parents felt at the time, with all the focus on his pretty girlfriend instead of on him and his family. Don't forget the busty and glamorous footballers’ wives - they even had a series here called The Footballers’ Wives and everybody used to love watching it (except yours truly, of course, who prefers to imagine that the footballers are all single available men). The storyline and plots are fictional, but they just love their footballers so much here that even an imaginary scandal in the series make them whimper with the pleasure they get from their imagined insider’s scoop.

So now you know a little bit about football, you can show off and nod knowingly when the men start talking. You can make intelligent comments like; ‘That Brazilian player? I heard his prowess is not limited to the field…(wink).’ When somebody scores a goal, remember to shout 'goal!' just a little louder than normal to show some extra enthusiasm. You may also buy your boyfriend/husband a football jersey, (from the nearest night market and a similar one of a smaller size for you, of course) of his favourite team, to show him that you do have some interest in the World Cup and that you are not to be ignored while he sits glued to the telly for 1 month starting the 9th of June. Most importantly, you must remember to decide beforehand your favourite team(s) (other than England) and your favourite player(s) (other than Beckham) to show some ‘superior’ knowledge of the tournament. That is all. I myself, will be rooting for Brazil and England as usual and hoping that they will meet in the final game. If they do, then, 1 thing I definitely know for sure is that, the game will be equally as good as the view.

Friday, May 19, 2006

My Poor Basil

I nearly screamed today when I went outside to water my basil plant. It used to be green and healthy, its leaves nice and aplenty, growing just outside my back door. But it was nearly leafless today, the ones left in such poor shape and riddled with holes and marks of a pest which had feasted on it during the night. And next to the plant was the fat snail that stole my fresh basil leaves from me - that wonderful aromatic ingredient in my pasta dishes...argh...!!!

Shall I kill that snail? Shall I? Shall I?

I am so heart broken. I've never ever had any luck in growing anything, being so ignorant about all things that can grow from something so small as a seed (except perhaps of the homo sapien species which I have tried a hand in and succeeded twice.)That plant was growing so well that I planned to remove it into a bigger pot than its plastic one. And move it to my kitchen window. And make more pasta dishes. I had such great plans for that plant.

The last time I tried to plant something, I remember that I watered it with the water hose at 12 o'clock noon in Malaysia when the water was nearly boiling hot and so of course that was the end of my plant and my green finger aspirations. Well, it wasn't my fault! I didn't know any better - I was only 2 years old!

Did I say 2? No, sorry, I was only 22...

But I do not have the heart to kill that snail. Shall I remove it? Throw it somewhere? No, I think I shall have it killed. Before it causes more chaos and destruction to my peaceful life. But I'll wait for my husband to come back and ask him to do it. After all, I don't want to act jury and executioner here. Yes, that's what I'll do.

Sob, sob...damn that snail.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The London 'Money Makers'

(Warning: Below are ramblings of a bored mind. Proceed at your own peril.)

Those new neighbours were visiting again. A husband and wife couple from Malaysia, wife the student, husband the minder of their two children. They just couldn't take it anymore, they told us. Their children’s arms and legs were covered with splotchy red bite marks and due to the scratching; their poor babies’ skin is infected. The bed bugs were keeping the whole family awake at night. On top of that, their housemate, the main tenant of their rented house, chose one of the coldest nights in February to switch off their room’s electricity and heating, being the calculative and inconsiderate man that he is, having no mercy at all for the children who have just arrived from Malaysia and knowing that the family is already suffering from the bed bugs. And what’s more, they said, they also have to share the very small rectangular room they’re staying in with their brother (the husband’s, not the wife’s), who came with them to the UK to accompany them for a few months until they settle down. And so there were 5 of them sleeping, changing, studying, watching TV, relaxing and probably eating in that small single room. We’re not talking of a single room in Coventry or York here, we’re talking in London, where high rent rates mean very high prices for very small rooms and by very small they mean a box size store room not unlike the one Harry Potter had to stay in whilst staying with the Dursleys (ok, ok I exaggerate a little). And so this family later decided to leave the house next door even though they initially promised to stay a little longer, leaving that odious man and his family and moving to another house, far enough to avoid meeting the man and his family ever again, smaller in size, not as good in condition, but with it a peace of mind for their whole family. But not before they vented out their frustrations in the form of an email and a screaming match between the two families.

So, you see, these dramas happen in London too, not just in Malaysia. But the reason is not as complex as they come in Malaysia, where falling outs like this one may have been caused by a variety of reasons e.g. bad intentions, family affairs, scandals, children squabbles etc. The reason for this particular fall-out is, I’m afraid, money. (cue: The Apprentice’s theme song; ‘Money, money, money, money, Money!’). And worse, it’s money that they don’t have instead of money that they do have. You see, that odious man is notorious in this side of London amongst the Melayu here. His notoriety is caused by his obsession in making money. He’s uneducated and tries to make money by working in a supermarket and renting out the rooms at his house at ‘cheap’ London prices. This is all and well and even commendable as after all, a man must do what he can to provide for his family. But his actions and behaviour while doing this can make anyone grimace and shake their heads in disgust. As seen above, in the case of the family that has moved away, the man has no qualms about throwing 5 people in 1 small room as long as they pay him the rent - per head. And furthermore, he stalks any other Malays that he knows are sub-renting in nearby Malay houses, following them while they walk towards the Internet cafe and cornering them when he can, asking them what they are paying for their current rent and giving them a counter offer they cannot refuse, effectively ‘stealing’ from other Malays who are also trying to rent out rooms like himself. Once, he had permanent sub-tenants in his house, renting rooms in his house for a long period of time but when new customers came searching for rooms, he just throws them into the room of one of his permanent tenants without her permission, unlocking the door with his copy of keys when the tenant is away and claiming that he’s ‘helping’ the new arrivals when the only reason for his action is pure greed. And to top it all, he spreads poison about other Malays, telling foul untruths about his competitors in the room renting business and about anyone that he has a quarrel with (usually about money) to their employers (yes, actually going out of his way to find his enemies’ work place to see the boss and saying bad things about the man’s Malay employee!), their friends and their tenants for his benefit and satisfaction. All this, because, the bottom line as he understands it, is only his own profits.

There are other people here that also have this love for the GBP, their behaviour dictated by money, either to make more or to save some, other people's pocket and feelings notwithstanding. Although I admit, I would only categorise this man to be in the ‘obsessed’ group. And I honestly understand that for some, it is really due to necessity rather than a quest to become rich. There are a few categories, of course;

  • The graduate who doesn’t want to go home just yet because the exchange rate is just too good for him or her to miss the opportunity to make some money before going home.
  • The professional who came to work in Europe’s financial centre for ‘the experience’ above all, but nevertheless not denying that the money is good, after all!
  • The ex-pat, who wants to make even more money working abroad.
  • The odd Malay man or woman, disheartened, or ‘merajuk’ from their family or loved ones and had ‘run away’ to make it on their own.
  • And the more desperate, the husband of the PhD pursuing wife, who’s working to make ends meet because they have 3 young ones to feed, to name a few.

Remember we’re talking about London where on average rent is around GBP850 per calendar month for a sensible house in Zones 3-4 and the allowance that most of these PhD students get is around GBP1000. These people all have their own purpose and plans for being so far away from home. And so, can anyone at all be surprised that a big part of their plans is to accumulate money? Well, I'm not surprised.

Once long ago I remember asking somebody about the weird behaviour of Melayu London who are quite notorious for being ‘sombong’ or unfriendly when meeting other Malays in London. The Malays are quite a distinctive race, as you know, with their colourful scarves, small bodies and light brown skin, you can spot them from miles away, especially on the long and wide pavements of Oxford Street where the Clarks and Bally shoe shops seem to attract the Malays like bees to honey. To answer my question, a friend told me that somebody told her that the reason for such weird behaviour is that the Malays are avoiding other Malays so that they don’t have to make new friends who they will then be obliged to invite to their homes in accordance to the Malay polite culture when meeting a friend or an acquaintance; ‘Jemputlah datang ke rumah.’ And this is because they don’t want to have to spend any extra money on guests. How that shocked me! Of course, it may not be true at all as the source of that piece of information is that elusive ‘friend of a friend’ and who in heaven’s name conducted a survey on the topic anyway? But if it is true, must our own tradition and culture be traded for that quest for brass? The answer is no, of course. But I suspect that connection between money and Melayu London, that most worldly link, is a real connection that will be proven true to me in the future, while staying here in London.

Not that I am not affected by money. I do, I admit, have a slight problem for a lack of it, since I have opted not to work for my own money. But I have always thought that I was quite above wanting more money than was necessary, although always complaining to friends about not having it, but inside really, quite contented with whatever I have. Until, that is, quite recently, after a friend asked me what clothes size do I normally wear, that I realised it has been so long since I last shopped for clothes that I do not even remember my own size, and that’s the truth. In Malaysia, I was so used to buying shoes and new clothes and scarves every other month and eating in expensive restaurants that now, when I remember it all, I feel a yearning so strong that I feel like bawling at the top of my lungs. But then, I remind myself that I decided not too long ago that for now, my children must come first and so, I must resort to asking money from my dear husband to buy my books and perhaps allow him some favours to get what I want (elab:18SX). At least, in that particular business, I don't have to bad mouth any competitors to make some money.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Blame It On The Tiramisu

I first tried making tiramisu a few years ago when I spent 1 year in London to follow my husband who was at the time pursuing a certain academic aspiration. The dessert was for our Raya (Eid) 'open house' scheduled for one weekend in the month of Syawal and we were expecting quite a few people to turn up as we had quite a few friends and family in London at the time. Unfortunately for me, my supposedly delectable dessert did not turn out as expected and to save my dignity from going to tatters in front of all those people who will surely, surely look at me in horror and disgust, I unashamedly told my maid to err...claim that she made it and that it's actually a Sundanese dessert! (She's Sundanese, you see.) None of my guests came from there so I found a way to escape my tiramisu disaster. My maid didn't mind being used as the scapegoat (although she was indeed a great cook and could not possibly have created anything short of perfection) and she conceded to my request, as always, without a flicker of her Sundanese eyelid. It was quite funny, actually, for when people started to complement what I thought was a culinary disaster, I almost succumbed to all the praises to claim that it was my own cooking after all, 'prepared by these two hands', I would have let them know! But I resisted the urge to embarrass myself further in the eyes of my maid who would surely laugh at me till her sides split when she was alone in the kitchen.

I am, I think, a sort of a perfectionist when it comes to cooking food. On this however, I am a little confused about myself as I find, although I require the results to be perfect, in the process of making something, I rarely perfectly follow the recipe. And yet I demand it (perfection) in the result. From the tiramisu incident however, my husband has understood my zero flaw requirement and therefore, in order to keep me from distress has always volunteered to take the blame as the ‘incompetent cook’ every time my cooking appears to be not up to that required level when guests are coming. ‘That’s ok..’ he says when I start to whine over the hot cooking pot. ‘Just tell them I made that.’ And horribly, horridly, that comforts me, the proud and insecure woman that I am.

I am, I admit, quite ashamed of myself.

But I cannot help it. It’s not my fault! I blame, the people who have given me an abundance of skills but only limited to the basics and never anything more. And thus I thirst for some recognition on the meagre amount of knowledge that I have and my pride does not allow my knowledge of my own discrepancies to be known to others. And that’s my true flaw.

Hey, how did this piece of writing turn so self-denouncing? I intended for a few paragraphs of introduction before I give out my tiramisu recipe, which I am happy to say, has been praised and frequently requested during any gathering at my house. I blame the memory of my all too perfect first maid for this digression!

I retrace my steps back to that point in my story above where my ‘Sundanese dessert’ was appreciated after all. And so, I did not give up on the dessert which even in disgrace was enjoyed by many. After trying and failing a few more times, my luck improved when some friends came to visit me from Germany. They apparently have mastered the unyielding Italian dessert and gave me some tips and suggestions which I took into account during my next attempt. My tiramisu then turned out to be the perfect heavenly dessert it was supposed to be and I have not blamed anyone for my tiramisu ever since.


4 egg yolks
1 tub mascarpone cheese (around 1 cup)
1 pot whipping cream (10floz/ 280ml)
3 tbls sugar
1 packet sponge fingers
coffee for dipping
cocoa for dusting
chocolate curls for decoration (optional)

1. Combine egg yolks and sugar in the top of a ‘double boiler’ i.e. your yolks in a glass/metal bowl, resting on a pot/saucepan of boiling water. Reduce heat to low, and cook for about 6-8 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whip yolks until thick and lemon coloured.

2. Add cheese to whipped yolks. Beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside.

3. Pour coffee onto a saucer, dip fingers in coffee one by one until coffee is absorbed into part of each finger and line the bottom and sides of a large glass bowl. Spoon half of the cream filling over the sponge fingers. Repeat process; dip sponge fingers, line and spoon filling. Dust top with cocoa and chocolate curls. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. For the chocolate curls, use a vegetable peeler and run it down the edge of the chocolate bar whilst holding the chocolate bar over the tiramisu.

p/s: I use 2 oval shaped pyrex bowls for this recipe. Fits perfectly.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Re Marry and Be Merry?

‘Pa, if anything happens to you - God forbid - do you want me to marry someone else?’ I asked my husband. My mind has been wandering again, this time after reading a novel by Jo Beverley entitled My Lady Notorious. One of the characters in the book just lost her elderly husband and she rushed straight into the arms of her first love, and towards the end of the story, they got married. By no means this was at all central to the story and there were some other reasonings for her actions, but it just got me into thinking and so I asked. And my husband's answer was; ‘Of course you must remarry. Who would take care of you and the kids? But you must marry somebody better – no one as ‘poor’ as me. Don’t waste your time on somebody young and green and just starting in life– go for a rich guy who can provide you with something better than what you already have, or else, you might as well not get married again.’

Now, what kind of an answer is that? I was taken aback a bit and I have to admit, a little disappointed. I was hoping for him to say something like; ‘No, my love. I want you to love me, and me alone for all time,’ being in the romantic mood I was in after reading that book (You have my permission to wince or vomit). But of course, Malay men can never be THAT romantic. However, I realise his answer was, although short of romance, a statement of love, in its own way.

I remember an officemate a few years back telling me that her husband promised her that if she remarries after his passing, beware, as he will come back to haunt her and her new husband. Now what kind of a husband would say that? That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer to it would be a man who loves his wife so very much that he wants her to be shackled to him even from the grave. Or, a man who does not love his wife enough that he does not care for her well being when he is gone. Which is it?

A very good friend told me that when she was asked that question by a new boyfriend who was a lot older than she, her answer was, ‘Of course! (She will remarry)’ and that made him sulk for a bit. Well, maybe he was right for sulking, the way she jumped to answer that particular question! However, he composed himself suitably later to tell her that men normally would like to think that their woman will be faithful to them forever, even when they’re gone. But wait a minute, what about the women? Do they expect that kind of loyalty from their widowers if the situation was reversed? The answer is, I think, NO. Why the difference in expectations, then? Let me see. At the top of my head I can think of three different explanations;

· A man will need somebody to take care of him when he is old, his ‘makan-minum’ and all that. And a woman doesn’t?
· It will be hard for a man to take care of his kids, if they are still young and wants constant attention. And it will be easier for a woman? Taking care of growing children is not easy when you’re a complete parental entity and it certainly does not get easier when you are half an entity.
· A man has certain…ah…‘needs’ to be satisfied. And not a woman? (I assure you I AM blushing as I type this.)

Obviously, there are other reasons to be considered on whether a woman should remarry, for example; her dead husband’s money especially if they have children. She may not want to share it with her new man. Heck, with lots of money a woman definitely does not need any man, in my opinion. Alas, not many husbands leave their wives with lots of money when they die. In fact, many leave the world with debts and financial woes for the living to settle.

But I also feel a little offended. What? Must I have a man to take care of me? What? You think I’ll break down straightaway the moment I shoulder all the husbandly duties? What?!? That, of course, is my pride talking. I know that I should be thankful for my husband’s views. His opinion is, in my opinion, the best and most loving I’ve heard on the matter - whether I do or do not take it up. But I will not sing praises about him. He is just a man after all and he is not perfect.
Far from it.

And so, I will end this entry with a short tale of our Prophet’s sahabah, Abu Salamah r.a.and his wife, Ummu Salamah r.a.: which I hope will enlighten us all, this day.

Abu Salamah and his wife were a very loving couple. One day Ummu Salamah said to Abu Salamah, ‘I heard from the Prophet that if a husband and his wife are both given permission to enter heaven, then the husband will be together again with his wife if the wife did not marry anybody else after her husband’s passing. And it goes the same way with the wife. She will be together again with her husband if he did not marry again after her passing. Promise me, then, between us, we will not remarry if one of us dies.’ Abu Salamah replied, ‘Will you obey me, wife?’ To which she answered, ‘That is the reason why I am having this discussion with you, in order to obey your decision.’Abu Salamah then said, ‘I want you to remarry if I die before you.’ And then, Abu Salamah prayed; ‘Ya Allah, after my death, bless Ummu Salamah with a husband who is better than me, who will not cause her sorrow nor hardship.’ And when Abu Salamah died later due to an old wound from the Battle of Uhud, Ummu Salamah was offered by none other than Rasulullah himself to which she accepted.

p/s: I do recommend the book, My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley, the first of the Malloren series.