Friday, January 4, 2013

A brief tribute to 2012

Oh, I really did forget to blog for the whole, the WHOLE of 2012. My, my. How the indolent have fallen -- farther. December 2012 - We spend our time quietly at home as R has company holidays from Dec 22 and Jan 2, with a trip or two to Zugerberg. Our former neighbours move to their newly built house 3.5km away and are kind enough to invite us to dinner. Theirs is a beautiful modern two-storey structure on former farm land - lots of glass and light. R also does a lot of cooking trying out new dishes, most of which are pretty good.
November - I start writing for as a columnist about life in Switzerland as seen through the eyes of a Malaysian. When deadline day looms, you'd find me scrambling to finish a story. Actually starting is the hardest - once I get started the article comes out quite easily from my fingertips and brain-tips. October - It snows in the last week! Amazing lovely thick snow. The dog is overjoyed too. Before that shocker, a short trip to Appenzell to look at those famous windows and facades. September - It feels like a glorious short autumn and it turns out so. A trip to the pretty Mosel river in Germany - lovely vineyards and cute little hotels in Beilstein.
August - Things are cooling down but just a bit. Indian summer keeps popping up - well into September. A four-day trip to Chamonix, France. I love the Endless Summer blue hydrangeas we bought from Bochum - so many heads of flowers!
July - Barbeques and dips in the river Lorze. Walking lazily in the park with the dog who loves to swim and then throw herself upside-down on the grass, being cheeky. A Zug lake ferry ride to Risch from Cham and walking all the way back.
June - R's birthday means lots of good food and some good weather. Still in the caravan but going home within a couple of days.
May - Caravan trip through France to the Atlantic coast. Lots of rillette, baguettes, cheese and confiture. Go seeking for raw milk cheeses to try. They are truly tastier than cheese made from pasteurised milk or thermised milk. April - Lovely spring flowers popping up everywhere. Love it! That Japanese magnolia tree is pure magic. A trip to Montreux and Vevey charm us with its poppies.
March - First narcissus and crocuses in the Cham lake park. February - First snowdrops lift their heads from the cold and bloom under the apple trees in front of our neighbour's house opposite.
January - Winter rules. We spend a few days up in a mountain village in Braunwald, Glarus, where there are no cars - only electric carts and horse carriages.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dropping by, saying hi

Thought I should slip in a post before 2011 whizzes by unrecorded as far as this semi-abandoned blog is concerned. Before the year goes to sleep and never gets up again.

December - We were in Bochum, Germany, to visit ma- and pa-in-law. We ate at the Bochum KFC before we swung into their street in time for a late tea. Hope we didn't reek of fried chicken as we never tell them we eat KFC, haha. It snowed on Dec 19 in Cham but the snow didn't stay for Christmas although the ground was still fluffy up on Zug mountain, which was where we went so the dog could enjoy running and hopping in the white stuff. I also made choco cake balls a la and flourless Lebkuchen cookies for the first time.

November - The dog, dogpa and I came home from our caravan holiday in Spain and France, stopping for one night in Lausanne (CH), where we were delighted to find a place to plug into power for free. Made Fluffy Semolina Pudding for the first time and it was a keeper! So was Pear Touronde, something I found in a library cookbook.

October - In the second half of the month, we set off for France and Spain in a motorhome rented from Germany just across the border from Basel. Great! No need to do hotel-hopping, no need to pack and unpack half the time. Forgot to send labrador-shaped cookies to the guide dog school on Oct 2 to mark Umbria's birthday. Did it last year.

August - We went to Riquewihr in Alsace, France, before Aug 1 to escape the Swiss national day fireworks for doggie's sake. Came home in early August.

Dog finds a best friend in Enya, an Irish soft-coated wheaten terrier. They are so evenly matched and neither dominates the other. They love each other so much they lie down facing one another smiling and grinning and licking each other's faces.

Dog's other good friend is Tatcha, who also comes from the guide dog school. Tatcha is very small for a lab at 20kg (although she has put on 1kg and is now on a bit of a diet; her dogma says they walk and walk for hours and the pooch does not lose an ounce!). We once went on a walk at the foothill of Zugerberg with Tatcha and her two humans. She found a big stick and carried it doggedly for almost two hours - until our little picnic stop distracted her from her self-appointed duty.

Indra and Mumtaj visited us in August or September (yikes, my memory fails me). The former did not bring 'proper' shoes and walked around in her Hush Puppy ballerinas in cold, drizzly weather to the shock and horror of locals. The latter became good friends with Umbria and took dozens of pictures of the four-legged model. Oh, and we made a silly video with the dog a la Wegman's Weimaraners. Dogpa drove us to the Gotthard Pass and to the foothills of Mount Rigi and we took pictures up on a narrow rock which everyone climbed up including Umbria.

Dogpa and I went to Malaysia in April and a bit of May. Caught up with a few friends. We visited Pulau Sibu off Johore, Cherating (Impiana) and Laos. Luang Prabang was a lot of fun and relaxation; we took a lesson in Laotian cooking at Villa Lao in Vientiane.

Ann Marie visited us in March (if not February); she loved the huge strawberries; she and I went to Lucerne for the day with doggie.

February - We flew to Malaga (without dog), rented a car and drove to Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada and Priego de Cordoba. This was my birthday trip and enjoyed it immensely. The Spaniards are an amazing people. Just to stand in an ancient courtyard and think of how much history they have lived through almost blows one's mind.

Among the memorable books read: That Thing Around Your Neck - C Adichie, That Old Ace in the Hole - A Proulx, Big Little Life - Dean Koontz, Stroke of Insight, City of Falling Angels - J Berendt.

Will not try to over-stretch my memory and remember too much of this year. This is all for now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Being and Doing - doo bee doo bee dooo...

Much time has passed since my last post. But did much happen? Depends how you define 'much'. Sometimes being is doing, and doing is not necessarily being.

Philosophy and world views aside, here's something a little more concrete: The dog has grown up and passed her exam in October. Her trainer said Umbria did very well, scoring in the top category. Dogpa and I glowed with pride and happiness, the closest we'd ever come to parenthood. Or ever will, I'm guessing.

The Lab is staying with us for her final holidays before she begins work in January. Her trainer is on the lookout for a sight-impaired person who will suit her: affectionate, does not have too routine a life, likes the outdoors and long walks.

Today I received an email letter from someone at the British Council who told me one of my stories, "Grandma's Horny", has been included in the council's booklet 'City of Shared Stories - Kuala Lumpur'. It is not the most popular story I published on their website (that one was 'A Friend She Did Not Have to See') but guess it was chosen because it sounds real and is slightly humorous and heart-warming without being sentimental.

As for cooking and baking, I'm slowly increasing my repertoire, including (red) velvet cake, sticky toffee pudding (pictured at right), Spitzbuben (window jam cookies) and pork-n-apple pie. On a cold evening, seafood spaghetti is a favourite we keep coming back to every fortnight or so.

The next thing I'm going to try is onion pie. Mmm, looking forward to it this week.

One last thing: my reading diet. Since April last year, I have read at least ten books. The memorable ones are Master of St Petersburg by J.M. Coetzee, City of Falling Angels by John Berendt and The Turning by Tim Winton.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Funny coloured eggs + hot cross buns

I've been totally out of blogging and blog-hopping lately. Kind of missed my regular cyber haunts but have also been busy doing other things. Guess this happens to almost everyone, huh?

Got a heat-activated, gel-type egg colouring kit from a supermarket and had a lot of fun 'marbling' eggs and trying not to make a mess on the table and work tops. Had so much fun that I even coloured the uncooked eggs - which meant when I used them, I had to be careful cracking them open. Making trouble for myself, eh?

A happy Easter to Christians and happy holidays to those who get four days off. :)
These Hot Cross Buns were made from this recipe.

Had no idea how they're supposed to taste but I liked them well enough eaten warm with butter (first bun pic). I subbed some of the orange juice in the frosting with lime juice to make it nice and tangy. This is an untraditional 'paste' for the crosses. Traditionally crosses are made of flour and sugar mixed with water or milk and can be quite stringy or tough.

The texture of the buns is quite light and fluffy. I put in dried cranberries and sultanas, and bits of sweetened orange rind on some of the crosses.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rat-tailed Dog in the Year of the Ox + Spanish Omelette

Phew, I'm like a new mum (at this advanced age!) -- exhausted from endless rounds of walks, run-arounds in the park and me putting on coat and shoes (I need Velcro sneakers! Can't tie shoelaces anymore for the umpteenth time!).

The pup has grown into a teenage mutant ninja Dogzilla. Just look at the contrasting pictures.

Where has the cute little pup gone?!

Like a typical rebellious teenager, she at times does not do what I ask her to and even 'talks' back by making funny noises or barking once loudly (that got put paid with 'correction' from the puppy expert who visits us once a month). The picture at right shows you the "don't tell me what to do" brooding face, with her left ear flipped up punk-rock-style. Nice, huh? Oh, and she steals my couch-blanket too when I leave her alone in the living-room. The cheek. Apparently I'm now her 'mum' as she isn't that crazy about her original dog-mother-smell-infused towel we brought her back with.

And she snores. (Isn't it enough that my other half snores? I must be paying back for some past-life karma.)

So who has the time to cook elaborate dishes? Not me. So here's a
Spanish Omelette,
adapted from recipes on the 'Net and what a Spanish friend taught me:

(serves 2)


2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium potato, cut into small cubes
salt n pepper, to taste
1/2 onion, chopped (optional)
3 eggs
1 tomato, cubed
4 button mushrooms, sliced (optional)
2 tablespoons grated cheese (optional)
1 tablespoon chives or spring onions, snipped (optional)


1. Heat oil to medium hot in a small frying pan (the size you want for your omelette). Cook the potato cubes in it for 10 minutes, or until you can pierce a piece with a chopstick.
2. Grind salt and pepper to taste over the potato. Add mushrooms, onions (the Spaniards do NOT usually use onion or garlic for this but I like them) and whatever veggies you like. Add tomato last.
3. Beat eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
4. Pour into the veggies in pan. Sprinkle grated cheese over it if using.
5. Down heat to medium-low. Cover the pan if you like -- to help the top to gel faster.
6. Lift side of omelette to check done-ness. Be careful not to overcook. Carefully slide the omelette onto a plate bigger than your pan. Replace upside-down pan over it (put a silicone or heat-proof pad over pan bottom if it feels safer) and flip over. Remove plate and place pan back on stove.
7. Cook for 1 or 2 more minutes and invert or slide omelette onto serving plate. Eat it warm (before the dog needs to go out for yet another pee-poo).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A week of dogmumhood + Corn Veggie Fritters

The day we brought home the pup, it was snowing flurries. This morning it has been dropping big globs of snow. The white stuff is coming down again willy-nilly and the balcony railing has collected 17cm of it. It looks iced and ready to be served like creme cake (snow always reminds me of ice-kacang, a colourful Malaysian shaved-ice dessert).

Umbria, our black Labrador ward, was happy to romp on the sidewalk, plowing the snow with her inquisitive nose. At least, she is not tempted by the discarded cigarette butts and other trash (Swiss residents can be so slack!) on a usually snowless kerb.

When I took the pup out at 7am, a janitor was already shovelling a path up the ramp to our apartment building. Later, another man beat down some snow caught up in a fir tree -- so as not to surprise (shock, likelier!) passers-by with a heavy shower of dislodged snow every so often. A motorised snow plough was driven up and down the main street, pushing the powder to the sides. Well, at least it was easy to pick up Umbria's solid production with a plastic-bagged hand. Voila! No traces. (Potential Seeing-Eye dogs are only allowed to do their business in the gutter between kerb and street and by isolated walls.)

If I sit on the floor, Umbria would climb into my lap. Here is her favourite 'manja' position -- between my knees.

Before coming back into the apartment house, I stomped away the snow covering my shoes and brushed off the snow from my beanie and shoulders. Inside the front door, we do a little dance on the big doormat to get rid of the remaining moisture.

It's good to counter such white weather with something hot and crisp. Let's find a gentle reminder of an equatorial childhood while nursing a cup of hot tea and looking out at the snowy scenes. How about some Corn Veggie Fritters eaten with homemade chilli sauce?

Corn Veggie Fritters

1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup rice flour
2 tbs chives, chopped
3 tbs spring onions, sliced
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fine sugar
3/4 cup corn, drained of brine
2 tsp red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced (optional)
1/2 cup small shrimp, shelled (optional)
2 tbs cooking oil or butter

1. Mix the flours with the salt and sugar.
2. Mix the egg and the veggies (and shrimp, if using) into it.
3. Heat to medium-hot a bit of the oil or butter in a large frying pan.
4. Drop patties of the mixture and fry on both sides till gently browned.
5. Serve cold or warm with tomato ketchup or homemade chilli sauce (blend together 3 chopped/deseeded chillies, a tsp of sugar, 3 tsp lime juice, 2 tbs water and a clove of chopped garlic if you like).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Umbria Day and Orange Chiffon Cake

Dec 10 from now on will be known to us as Umbria Day. That was the day my other half and I brought home Umbria, a black Labrador pup from the Guide Dog School of Switzerland at Allschwil, about 1.3 hours' drive from here. She will stay with us for 12 to 15 months and I will be her 'dogmum' or Puppy Walker.

As she has been only two days in our flat, she doesn't like being alone in the living-room. If she's snoozing (often against my foot) and I tiptoe away into the kitchen to make tea, soon enough she would pad quietly into the kitchen looking up 'smiling' at me with a few wags of her funny tapered tail. Taking her outside is no mean feat - putting on her collar and leash, making her stay seated while I put on my coat and shoes, pressing the lift buttons while carrying her in my arms (that prevents accidental peeing) and opening the heavy front door of the apartment building.

Juggling taking care of the pup's needs and my usual baking and cooking is dicey. Imagine my having to take her out to wee (she's sniffing around for a spot - red alert!) when a chiffon cake is about to be ready in the oven. Dicey doesn't even begin to describe the narrow juggling of time, activity and their coordination.

Baking and cooking will have to take a backseat for at least a couple of weeks.

Nevertheless, as Umbria is the runt of her litter, here's a mini-chiffon cake recipe which I've adjusted to suit my tastes. You can use a Gugglhupf pan or a detachable chiffon pan.

Orange Chiffon Cake

3 eggs, whites separated from yolks
1/3 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup mixture of vegetable oil and half-melted butter (more butter means more flavour while veg oil makes a lighter cake but has less flavour)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence or 1 tsp vanilla sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour, preferably sifted
1 tbs cornflour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
small pat of softened butter, for painting cake pan with

grated rind (avoiding white pith) of 2 oranges
3 tbs half-fat yoghurt
80ml orange juice
bits of sugared orange rind (optional; storebought)

1. Heat oven to 175 degrees C. Whisk egg whites with cream of tartar till almost stiff.
2. Whisk oil/butter with sugar for 2 minutes at medium-high speed. Add yolks and vanilla and whisk for 1 minute.
3. Mix flours with baking soda, baking powder and salt.
4. Alternate adding the flour mix, the orange juice and yoghurt. Fold grated orange rind gently in till just combined.
5. Fold whisked egg whites into the mixture carefully. Pour batter into buttered cake form. Strew orange rind bits on top (if using).
6. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Insert a skewer or thin knife in the middle of dough to see if it comes out clean. Invert cake pan on a wire rack so cake retains maximum height. Carefully remove cake from pan only when cool.
(This cake gives 4 servings. Double the recipe if you're making a big cake and increase time in the oven to 40-50 minutes.)

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.)