Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays from Malaysia

A few readers have asked me what I'm going to do for Christmas here in Malaysia and so it got me thinking...

2005 Christmas in New York

I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where it was always a white Christmas. Snow outside, fires going inside. Christmas decorations throughout the house that had been collected over the years and every house had a tree sparkling through the front window. Growing up in the 70s was a different time, older generations of midwest women would still bake for the holidays. And it wasn't just one or two types of treats. They would bake cookies, bars, candies... basically in the midwest back then, there was pretty much a non-stop flow of sugar during the holidays.

My family had a tradition that every year we would go together an buy our Christmas ornaments for the year, my mom and dad and sister and I would get one, they would all be the same kind but slightly different. Every year was a different theme reflecting something we did that year. So over they years I have collected an ornament for every year. When I left home and moved to New York these ornaments followed me and every year I'd continue to get a new one. Putting up the tree, I'd start with my first baby ornaments and proceed year by year putting them on the tree up to the current year. This was what my family did, and it is what I did as an adult.

So you can see that in 2005, my last Christmas in New York, I had accumulated quite a few ornaments. Some on the tree were also antique ones I found around at garage sales around my house. Anyway, this is what my Christmas was like in the US. When I moved to the middle-east in 2006 there was no Christmas, no trees, and the desert heat did not feel like the December cold that I knew the holidays to be. So I adapted. No tree, but still Holiday gifts with family and friends and other ways to celebrate.

When R and I moved to Malaysia, we noticed more Christmas celebrations. We saw the malls were decorated in holiday decorations and a general sense of Christmas. There was actually Christmas wrapping paper and bows! Holiday cards!

Mid Valley Mall Malaysia

The Christmas tree situation is this: not really any fresh cut trees (although I'm not sure I'd buy a fresh tree anymore thinking about it from an environmental perspective), there are small potted trees that people buy. The other option is an artificial tree from Tesco or Jusco. The ones I have seen have been smallish and not really full, pretty 'fake'. So as of yet I haven't had a tree in Malaysia. My ornaments are in storage in the US as I'm afraid they will break in transit. Maybe next year I'll sort the tree thing out. Not sure.

I did get a Time Out email yesterday with suggestions of what to do around Kuala Lumpur for Christmas. There are plenty of places serving Christmas meals listed and even places that will make Turkey for you to take home. It all looks quite festive.
What I learned about Christmas is it's not only the decorations, it's the spirit and being with loved ones. A Tropical Christmas is starting to grow on me, although I'll always have a soft spot for a white christmas. This year I don't think we will head to KL, R and I will stay home, break open a bottle of special Chardonnay and open our gifts to celebrate.

I wish all my readers Happy Holidays!!!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

New Patio Plant: Euphorbia

I've seen these cool spiky plants around and found one at one of the nurseries in Seremban. It's a Euphorbia milii Des Moulins, I think. Euphorbiaceae. CN: [Malay - Pokok raja], Crown of thorns. Native of Madagsacar and panted worldwide as ornamental plant. Doesn't seem to like to much water.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Baby Back Pork Ribs and American-type Barbeque Sauces

I was at Tesco awhile back and was in the separate section they have for the pork and other non-Halal items (you have to pay separately for these items including alcohol so when we are at the grocery stores and go into these sections we have to be rung up in two separate places so as to keep the Halal separate from the non-Halal in the grocery stores. It is a bit of a hassle because the act of being rung up at the register in Malaysia sometimes is a slow process!). Anyway, there was actually some ok looking Baby Back Pork Ribs so I picked them up. I don’t remember seeing them before and thought R might like me to make some barbequed ribs.

Pork Baby Back Ribs from Tesco Seremban 23.83RM

American-type Barbeque Sauces that come in bottles here are fairly limited to Heinz and a few other basic BBQ sauces that have a generic BBQ taste. No fancy gourmet BBQ’s in Seremban although I have seen a slightly better selection before at a grocery store called Cold Storage which has a few locations around KL, Selangor and Mid Valley. But even there, they are overpriced and limited.

So a number of months ago I decided to try making my own BBQ sauce, I was trying to get a good American BBQ sauce taste using ingredients available here in Malaysia. The sauce I’ve been making tastes great, rich flavor and just spicy enough for our taste. And because of the special ingredients like the SOS chili sauce there is a very faint Asian taste that I think makes it a special layered sauce.

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it. I use it mainly on oven baked chicken, but I also used it on the oven baked baby back ribs and it was very tasty. I usually cook the meat awhile and then add the sauce towards the second half of cooking so it doesn’t burn.

BBQ Sauce

1 cup Tomato Sauce

1 cup SOS Chili Sauce

1/4 cup Distilled Vinegar

1/4 cup Dark Soy Sauce

1/4 cup Brown Sugar

1 tablespoon Yellow Mustard, like Heinz not dry

1 tablespoon Tabasco Sauce

1/4 tablespoon of Mexican Chili Powder*

1/4 tablespoon of Asian Chili Powder*

1/4 tablespoon of Red Chili Pepper Flakes**

1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

Mix all of the ingredients in a stainless steel saucepan and slowly bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir regularly. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer until it turns dark and thick (about 10 to 15 minutes). Transfer the sauce to a sealable container and store in the refrigerator. It should keep for a month.

*Chili powder here is usually Asian chili powder, a bright red finely crushed powder. Mexican chili powder or what in the US we just call Chili Powder is browner and has a different taste so it is important for the recipe to use some Mexican Chili Powder in addition to Asian Chili Powder. MasterFoods Brand Spices from Australia makes a Mexican Chili Powder available here in Malaysia in the spice section of stores like Tesco or Jusco.

**I think I mentioned before Red Chili Pepper Flakes are hard to buy here, so I get mine from the extra packets that are delivered with Dominos Pizzas. Then later use the packets of Red Chili Pepper Flakes for cooking because cooking with out Red Chili Pepper Flakes at times is nearly impossible! OK Dominos Pizza isn’t great at all but thank goodness they do deliver to my house in seremban when I can’t cook for whatever reason and thank goodness for those pepper flake packets they are like gold in my house!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Orange Berry Palm

I snapped these shots at the Sri Menanti Royal Museum (I wrote about the place here). Not sure what kind of Palms these are but the berries are beautiful and would look great in my garden as I am trying to include as much orange as possible.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Taugeh Hijau

I was at Family Store buying my vegetables for the week, there wasn't a great selection because it was Sunday and the Family Store by my house gets really busy on Saturday and to a lesser degree Sunday morning. So by the time I rolled in there, the selection was pretty grim. I got what I could and looked for anything else that might be worth buying. I saw this small packet of some cute little greens called Taugeh Hijau so I put it in my basket.

The Taugeh Hijau sat in my crisper for a day or two and then I noticed it and thought I better do something with it before it spoiled. I looked online and found "green bean sprouts" for one translation and on a blog another suggestion that Taugeh Hijau might also mean snow pea sprouts or pea sprouts, that they are the greens for peas. The Taugeh Hijau I bought looked kind of like other pea sprouts images. It seems they are usually cooked in Asia. I didn’t need to look at the recipes, I could tell by the finished products that it’s more of that stirfry-lightly or blanch them type of preparation done here so often in Asia especially Malaysia... similar to the preparation the baby ferns I recently prepared and other greens.

But I was serving cold chicken and vegetable pasta for dinner and so cooking these didn’t appeal to me, I thought maybe I could add the sprouts to the top of the salad raw. I found one entry online that said they could be both cooked or served raw and that raw they tasted good. So I tried a stem. Sure enough, it tasted good. In fact it tasted an awful lot like alfalfa sprouts which I love and aren’t available at family store and are quite expensive when they are available at Jusco. So here I have another sprout alternative! R was skeptical but I cleaned them and placed them on top of the pasta salad. Guess what, he liked them and I did too. Very nice taste and cool texture- a crisp bite in the mouth and it made the salad look pretty fancy.

I’m going to have to get them again and try cooking them too.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wall Lighting in Living Room

The wall lighting for the Living Room was proving to be the hardest fixtures to buy. I really had been looking for something over the past few months because I was tired of seeing the dangling wires when we watched films on our TV. But, in Malaysia generally there are two types of wall sconces. The very dated frosted glass dome type lighting or weird designs with colors or ... I can't even explain them, but imagine some really ugly fixtures.

I contacted the Malaysian furniture store Linds Furniture via email back in April and asked about some wall fixtures on their website that I thought were passable, I didn't love them but at least they looked contemporary and white would blend into the wall, right?

Wrong. Here was the response from Linds: "The name of the Foscarini lights is Fields. They come in two different colours, White and Orange. Price is listed as below (stock as listed):

Fields 1: RM 4,400 (1 in orange)
Fields 2: RM 5,200 (1 in white)
Fields 3: RM 4,900 (1 in orange)

The big light in the middle (of the picture) is a combination of all three fields.

For those not in stock, we can order them, with a waiting period of not more than 3 months. Attached is a pdf document with details of the lights."

So if I wanted to buy the light in the middle it would cost 14,500 RM (approximately $4,833 USD) and I would have to wait up to 3 months to get it in white. I just wonder, who in their right mind would spend this much on this fixture? No thanks, I kept looking.

I had nearly given up, but finally found something useable from Avalon Light Fixtures in Senawang not far from Seremban. I liked the curved part and the contemporary look. I wasn't sure R would like them so I took a photo and shared it with him first. Surprisingly, he liked them. I was, at that point, prepared to spend some money on the fixtures, I mean not 14,000 RM, but more than I had initially wanted to as I figured they were in an important room of the house. But to my delight they were with discount only 40 RM each!