Monday, January 28, 2008

Kitchen Tales.

Ok. So I've been lying. Partially. A tiny bit.

All those time I've mentioned that I can barely find time to indulge in my favourite activities and hobbies (take reading a novel for one) when my hands are practically filled with household chores, despite the fact that I may appear to have all the time in the world seeing that I'm still on my prolonged holiday study break. Well, the part about the having all the time in the world is fairly true and the part about the endless household chores... kinda. Of course, any systematic and organized suburban housewife will tell you that with a little proper planning (and less indecisiveness), she'll surely get some alone time where she'll get to indulge in her fantasies. Considering my domestic skills are slowly but steadily blossoming growing into the likes of foreign maids and cleaners hired by mothers of the Upper East Side community, added with my unquestionable planning ability, I do get some time off my shoulders.

Rare as they may come though, I still fill those little free times I have in the kitchen, enhancing my culinary skills. Surprising as it may sound, I do have an undying dream of becoming a chef one day. If there was a secret identity in everyone, mine would be the hopeful chef. It's more like a longing to want to be able to prepare meals for myself and others. Call me delusional in believing in myself, considering I own a pair of hands which works no better than my feet in holding a spatula. Mind you though, I've gotten comments by relatives that I've got the looks of a chef while they struggle to strike up conversations concerning me and my future if my camera wasn't in sight. Nonetheless, I usually dismiss those conniving compliments since they're usually associated with my extraordinary body size. Not that I'm not flattered when someone sparks a hope on that secret dream of mine.

So, whenever I'm done with my laundry, ironing, swe
eping and mopping, dusting, dishes etc. etc., plus that sudden hunger pang as encouragement, I'd pick up the pan and the knife and spend about 2 hours of the afternoon in the kitchen, waltzing around while listening to E! News' cover on Britney's shameful breakdown on the television. I have to admit though, at this point, my cooking skills are only limited to frozen produced food, I still enjoy cutting up the lettuces and tomatoes for garnishing and the pure joy of having the liberty to handle your meal in whichever way you want. For an amateur like me, every session would just feel like an adventure. I mean, I barely know the As and the Bs in the kitchen and with no one watching my moves, I'm pretty doing things according to instincts, which, to be frank, wouldn't help me in cooking to even save my life. Exactly, how much is a pinch of salt? Cause I seem to be always giving it too much of a pinch. Don't even get me started on the burnt hashbrowns and overcooked tempura fish. Oh, we all learn from mistakes.

I guess all of these started back in December when jie was around and when we discovered the convenience of cooking with an oven (it saves you fr
om all the oil splatter by a pan), instead of placing a pan over the stove and the many nights we were lazy to go out for dinner. To be thinking of it, that month itself, I've cooked up quite a lot of mid-afternoon snacks and quickie dinners with the oven and microwave. You know, we were busy teenagers with electronic cooking devices and no certain mealtimes. What did you expect? It's just a shame I didn't care much about recording anything back then. No photographs or whatsoever. I guess I was more into joining in the fun than recording it for later. We did manage to cook up pies (Banana Toffee Pie to be exact) on several occasions last month which totally broke my skepticism that Asians are incapable of making pie.

Caramel filling.

This shit is bananas. B.A.N.A.N.A.S!

Pie maker.

Pop it in the oven.

On several other occasions, just the other day, I mad myself some breakfast - consisting of hashbrown, scramble eggs, a burger (only edible after the second attempt) and a glass of juice. A week before that, I even made some mashed potatoes with a random mashed potato recipe taken off the internet. Oh, I do own a shameless amount of cooking recipes pages, bookmarked and just a click away for that cooking fix. And the mashed potato turned out ok, I guess. Let's just put it this way, it was left unfinished on the table till moss started growing over it on the third day which forced me to dispose it. I wouldn't take pictures of that, no way. Of course, those were the few things which I psyched myself to do almost on a weekly basis. Still, I wouldn't dare offer anyone a meal that I would prepare completely by myself. At least not till I'm ready. The occasional breakfast I prepare for the cousins and sister, well, that's just because I get feedback from them and they trust me enough to put the food I prepare into their mouth. Not that my cooking is bad, is it now?

Breakfast for one?

Can it look any more palatable?

On another note. Being the child on a study break and to be
giving the misleading signal that I own all the time in the world (I kinda do for now), I've been helping mom a lot lately in the baking department, with the much anticipated Chinese New Year around the corner. This year, it appears that mom's coming full circle again, baking various traditional cookies and delicacy for the season after a lengthy two years hiatus since the death of kong kong. She's keen to do everything that she knows from the recipe book in her mind, result of many years of learning from women of the older generation. If I didn't know mom's real age, I'd say she pretty much came from the older generation as well. Like always, she's still amazingly capable of finding time to satisfy her baking cravings despite her being a full-time working mom. So far, we've already come up with three types of cookies for Chinese New Year - kueh kapit, kuih bangkek and ribbon biscuits produced usually in apoh's three bedroom flat. You'd be surprised by how these women are able to defy all odds and turn the flat into a confectionary of some sort just for the sake of keeping the traditional alive. The only thing is, mom refuses to go commercial with these cookies. She doesn't want to sell them. She still insists that they remain in the comforts of our own family and as gifts to visiting relatives during the new year.

Kuih Kapek from matrianklw on Vimeo.

And being in the boat that I'm in right now, I'm expected to be present on every baking session, dutifully helping out in whichever ways I'm needed and often, being caught up in the conversations amongst the women of the older generation. Sometimes, I'm even turned into the subject of conversation which could be pretty embarrassing. Besides that, mom has planned her schedule out this week nicely to make way for two more types of delicacy - the peanut cookies and sugared potato chips. To be honest, these names are quite tacky. The real pronunciations for all the delicacies (usually in the Hokkien dialect) sounds much better. Also, since this will be the 1st year after so long without akak's impeccable skills, mom would be fulfilling her duty as daughter-in-law and try to whip some traditional dishes for the celebration. Just imagine, 7-8 years without taking charge in the kitchen - she'll be needing all the help in the kitchen. Marketing itself would be a pain in the butt. Don't get me wrong though, she's a great cook, just a little rusty on the side.

But there I'll be the dutiful son by her side, carrying the marketing goods and chopping up carrots and cabbages (if I'm ever trusted upon these tasks). Until my time finally comes, I'll still be under the shadow of someone more experienced and no doubt, elder. I'm still working on gourmet meals, if you were ever wondering. Oh yes, and jie will be back this Sunday which only means another companion to the above chores.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

My December.

About 5 months back, akak left the family - for good. Unfortunately, if you were looking for some juicy story regarding jeweleries, Bangladeshi workers or sick voodoo, you might be disappointed. No, I'm not going to uphold the average housewife legacy for bad-mouthing about maids, while hiding their own treatment towards them. Akak, however, left us for valid reasons, both agreeable and respectable to mom and dad, with great reluctance. I mean, she's been with us, managing the household for the past 6 or 7 years, friendships were formed, of course there'll be reluctance but to ask her to stay would be sheer cruelty and selfish for our part. She did go back 4 months earlier than her contract with us, though. Given the circumstances, we had to let her go. So, when she packed her bags and got on the plane, the family felt handicapped. It's been 6 years and none of us has done any chores for that length of a time (apart from that stint back in October '06 when she went back for a short while). To say we were rusty on our skills would be an understatement!

When she left, I was in the midst of my examination preparations, which mom intended not to interfere with chores. She always told me not to think so much about the chores and leave it to her. Back then, all I did was do the clothes, seeing that I was the only one whom akak passed down the knowledge of work the washing machine. Even that, mom was a tad bit worried that it might affect my studies, every now and then, offering to do the chores which we both know is impossible to ever get done with her working 8 hours a day. Let's be frank, working moms are not model housewives. Mom did do the ironing though (since neither dad nor I knew how to iron) while dad did the sweeping and the mopping. The household was manageable with me doing the weekly dusting of furniture and cleaning of the toilets. Naturally, it fell into a routine and we were getting used to it. Admittedly, there were times when things take a toll on us but I think we got through just fine. Even up to my exams, I didn't feel much pressure and the house was still liveable.

Come December, that's when things really got hectic. Jie was back for the holidays and she offered to help around the house. If you consider dragging me and dad along, cleaning the entire house for the entire first week helping, then she did help out alot. It was more like a mini house remodelling cum spring cleaning, instead of the weekly dusting. I don't blame her. To make the complete transition from having a maid do things for us for the past 6 to 7 years to a normal functional family with divided chores, we needed to reshuffle everything to our liking and understanding. After all, Christmas was near and we had to do our spring cleaning anyways. So we spent the first week at home, cleaning. Jie did take up the ironing as well, if I may mention. And when I thought December would be a breeze after that, amah comes running along having the fall and turning our just-settling-down lives upside down all over again.

Not that I blame her or anything (nobody wanted this accident to take place) but I've got to admit that it was the last thing any of us needed. The forth and back trips from home to the hospital just doesn't do the situation any good. Apparently, the grand old lady isn't dead yet. Wait, that was a little harsh of me - she hasn't passed away and according to some hocus-pocus Buddhism witchcraft, she's expected to live another extra 2 years, with her ailing condition. She finally moved back from the hospital into her own home and has been looked after by mom and dad ever since - we're talking about meal times, personal hygiene and medication - which pretty much puts another set of routines on my working parents, bounding them in their seats full of commitments. She isn't paralyzed or anything, just unable to do things by herself, especially when it comes to personal hygiene. Considering us being kids, we can't help out much in our part. Which made it no surprise that our family is the one who were usually late for gatherings, meeting and parties, given the schedule mom and dad constantly needed to plan around. So there, no death or whatsoever.

When things finally got a little settle down (when routines were familiarised) , jie and I became busy with last minute Christmas shopping. I know it seems here like we are horrible children who couldn't care less about other stuff at home at this point, but someone really needed to run the show and with mom occupied with her job and amah, who else was supposed to do the gift shopping, the wrapping and other monumental preparations for the season (albeit the mood being already dampen by the tragic fate of my dear grandmother). The show had to go on. So basically, we were running up and down malls, 2-4 times a week, a different mall each time for different reasons and by all means, let me tell you, shopping easily gets tired when you've been on your feet all the time, waltzing pass stores with shoes that aren't too comfortable to start with, and of course, the sheer thought of the parents slaving away in the day. With that sense of guilt swimming in me, I did constantly remind jie that we were bad children and we deserved to be punished, which she didn't retaliate to the remark in return.

To think about it again, the shopping wasn't easy task filled with stress-free moments. I mean, with parents trying to burst through your cellphones, insufficient cash flow and year end sales going on, shopping should be considered a hazardous activity (sometimes, we even skip lunch to fully utilize our time and save pennies!) which only manages to breed greed, self-absorption and fickle-mindedness. In other words, it only brings out the evil in me (and jie, no doubt)! Still, having the knowledge that there's still house chores to get back to after a tiring day of walking, gnawing at the back of my head most of the time should account for something good doesn't it? Surprisingly, I actually worry about not getting my laundry done or the dishes washed which usually results me in acting strangely during our one-to-many shopping sprees. Of course, after spending almost 8 hours at the mall, chores would be the last thing one would wanna go home to. Inevitably, I still return home and finish my chores (regardless of what time is it) and mind you, I do stay up at times to wait for the laundry.

In the midst of all that chaos, I still play host when cousins come over for sleepovers. Not only do I manage a big part of the family chores, I still need to ensure my guests have a splendid stay and that they don't notice the immense pile of laundry stacked up in our room, waiting to be ironed. Oh, and did I mention, I cook for my dear cousins as well, occasionally. Usually, it's breakfast as we normally eat-out for lunch (thank God!) but I do a little baking form time to time. And may I add, any new housewife would agree with me that cooking isn't an easy task, especially at the end of the meal when kitchen utensils pile obscenely in the basin. Whether it's just a reheat or a sauté, it still requires work. This season though, I've tried baking pies - banana toffee pie to be exact - ever since one of mom's friend passed jie and I the simple recipe. A good leap from the baking I did 2 years back, don't you think? Well, you definitely don't expect us to show up empty handed at parties and and family gatherings we've been invited to. It's a good way to get comments and feedback as well. If that's not getting my hands full, I don't know what is.

Plus, did I mention that I had to do all these with minimal amount of sleep. Hey, when the cousins are over, it's more like a who-can-keep-awake-the-longest-competition rather than a regular sleepover. If we weren't overdosing of midnight knickknacks (chips, pizza and candies), we were probably overdosing on movies or boardgames. Now, how much sleep do you think I can get out of these over-energized brats? Furthermore, I'm not the kind of wet blanket cousin who gets fussy over health issues and start giving them a lecture on living a healthy lifestyle. I'm more of the kind which allows them to go crazy if they wanted to and most of the time, joining in mindless adolescent games. After all, I don't stay young forever and it's the holidays! Oh, and the family gatherings on various occasions that keeps me awake till the wee hours, where could I possibly find sleep? Seriously though, I can still put my chores aside and have fun. Whoever said I was a serious no-nonsense freak. And I never get afternoon nap or anything like that, except for the 40 winks in the car and the mere ability to keep awake during church. Gee, have I sinned too much this Christmas?

Nevertheless, you still gotta admit that I am getting kinda good at this whole househusband role. As they always it's never to early to start and I will need all the training I can get to be more domesticated. My December was a helluva ride, that's for sure. At the end of the year, I was surprised myself that I'm still standing strong after everything (although getting unnecessarily cranky every now and then) that's happened. Realised that I barely have the time like I used to when I could sit and write all day in front of the computer, not the previous December or for the Decembers to come. Things have definitely changed around this household and I'm definitely armed with an excess baggage this new year. There's still a lot of getting used to and there's still a lot that needs to be done. In the meantime, I'm considering working and taking my driver's license by the end of this month and February, I hope - if things ever ease up enough for me to make time for a new commitment. I sure do hope.