Thursday, 29 November 2012


Go fly a kite...
"I am." is the shortest complete sentence in the English language. Some say that the sentence, "I do." is the longest...

Friday, 23 November 2012

Fresh green chillies

It was a public holiday in Johor yesterday, so we made our way up to Tangkak to visit my brother-in-law who had just returned from performing the hajj in Makkah. The lovely thing about visiting pilgrims who have just returned home is hearing their stories of the many interesting and sometimes mysterious happenings in the holy land. It brings back memories of the time my wife and I were there and of course, it make us long for the opportunity to be able to go there again.

But this post is not about stories from Makkah.

My brother-in-law, together with his eldest son, run a small-scale commercial vegetable farm in Tangkak. Every time we visit them, we are rewarded with a bounty of harvest from their kebun. Depending on what's in season, they would pack some vegetables for us to take home. On our previous visit in September (before my BIL flew off for the pilgrimage), we took home some pumpkins (labu). This time around we were given some green chillies, pisang tanduk, keladi and lemongrass (serai).

Actually, not some green chillies... but a lot. Probably about 8 to 10 kilos worth. The chilli plants were fruiting so abundantly, to the extent that our nephew ran out of manpower to pluck them all. We picked as much as we could yesterday afternoon... and today my wife began sharing some of them with our neighbours and relatives here in Johor Bahru. We now have fresh green chillies to last us a whole month at least.

Green chillies ripe for picking
Chilli padi just sprouting, so no picking yet
Plot cleared for pumpkin planting. Cloud-shrouded Gunung Ledang in the background
Keladi plants in between the bananas
I love green chillies. I prefer them to the red ones. Freshly-cut green chillies are an important ingredient in most of my favourite dishes such as mee rebus and kacang pool. I add them in almost anything that I cook stir-fry style.

With a fresh supply from the farm, I couldn't resist using them tonight in a recipe I learnt from my mother - ikan bilis goreng asam (fried anchovies with tamarind paste). It is an exceedingly simple but tasty recipe that helped me survive the lean times when I was a student overseas.

Ikan bilis goreng asam

Ingredients :

  • a handful of ikan bilis (use the good quality type)
  • one large onion (sliced)
  • a clove of garlic (chopped finely)
  • two or three fresh green chillies (rough-sliced)
  • half-a-cup of tamarind juice (air perahan asam jawa)
  • an optional pinch of shrimp paste (belacan)
  • a teaspoon of sugar (also optional)

Method :

Heat some oil in a wok and fry the ikan bilis till crisp. Remove from wok and set aside. Reduce the oil in the wok and fry the onion and garlic until fragrant. Add the sliced green chillies and fry for a short while. Add the tamarind juice and the pinch of belacan. Stir until the liquid thickens. Add back the fried ikan bilis and mix well so that the tamarind paste coats the ikan bilis evenly. Sprinkle in the sugar and turn off the heat immediately so that the ikan bilis remain crisp and not soggy.

I prefer my onion and chilli to be a bit crunchy, so I sometimes put them towards the end of the cooking process. If you prefer to have a bit of gravy, then dilute the tamarind paste and don't reduce the liquid by too much. Serve with steaming hot rice and bull's-eye fried egg with some kicap, and that's enough of a meal for me.

Below is a pic of tonight's handiwork. Sedap tau...

Ikan bilis asam - the dry version

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Another steamboat makan place in JB

With the existence of many food blogs and pages on Facebook nowadays, restaurant owners and operators can have a quick online presence to promote themselves. I would occasionally check out such links to see if there are any new makan places worth visiting.

Last night, we tried out a new halal grill and steamboat restaurant which I discovered online. D'Chagar Grill & Steamboat is located in Taman Molek, Johor Bahru, within the same block as the Astro outlet. It is a simply decorated shop, with the array of steamboat ingredients placed in trays arranged on a long table against one wall (some other steamboat restaurants have these ingredients in chillers, which I think is more hygienic).

In my earlier post on halal steamboat BBQ makan places in February this year, I listed out a few points on how I judge such restaurants. Using the same reference, I'll outline my views on D'Chagar :
  • They have a large selection of the steamboat stuff, i.e. meatballs, fishballs, beancurd, crabsticks etc. but their meat/chicken spread is pretty basic. The seafood choice is limited to small prawns, squid and anak ikan selar. No shellfish at all. Vegetable choice is too little. No fried rice or noodles.
  • Only one type of broth is on offer, a simple chicken soup. But tasty enough.
  • Drinks are okay with 4 types available (soya bean, asam boi, jagung and guava, plus plain mineral water). 
  • 4 types of sauces are available : black pepper, homemade hot ground chilli, chilli-tomato and black petis paste.
  • Each rectangular table has a cut-out centre portion where the stove is inserted, hence the BBQ pot does not stick out too high. The restaurant is quite spacious and movement is not hampered by closeness of the tables. But they could improve further if the drink dispensers and ice container are arranged as a separate station from the foodstuff.
Ok then, what about the overall taste? I guess I'll give it average marks. The soup is not too bad but the meats (the main reason I go for BBQ) are not as good as some of the other places that I've been to.

The advertised price is RM18 per adult but we were charged a promotion rate of only RM10. This promotion price ends tomorrow. Perhaps because of the promotion period, their spread of ingredients is not extensive. I may patronise this place again and see if the full rate would entail more choice.

The shopfront
Large table with a cut-out centre section to fit the stove

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

It's reading time

We went to the Popular Book Fair at Danga City Mall last night. It has been a while since I last went on a book-buying spree. I picked up 4 novels while the missus chose 2.

The four that I selected are shown in the photograph below. With the exception of Stephen King, the other three authors are new territory for me, although I have to say that I've heard of Arundhati Roy before. Her award-winning book, The God of Small Things, first came into print in 1997. I've seen it on the shelf of my local library but was never moved to borrow it for reading. This time around, Popular offered it for sale to members at only RM9.90, so it's a steal.

Also on offer at RM9.90 is Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. By just looking at the cover, you can tell it's a `girl' novel. What prompted me to give it a try was a few lines of introduction to the story written on the back cover.

"They say to live every day as if it's your last - but you never actually think it's going to be. You always think you have more time."

Recent events have got me thinking about the short time we have in life... so I thought this book might be a good read. We shall see.

The only non-fiction book of the four is Three Cups of Tea. It tells the story of mountaineer Greg Morrison's mission to build schools in the poor and remote villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I guess I'll start my reading with this one.

If this blog doesn't look like it's being updated in the next few weeks, you guys will know what I've been up to.

Selamat Tahun Baru Hijrah 1434 to all Muslim friends and readers...

Should tide me over till the end of the year

Friday, 9 November 2012

Lost for a while...

Sometimes we need to be lost for a while for us to be found... 

The above quote was posted as a status update on my Facebook wall in April of last year. I was facing a rough patch in terms of my job direction and was thinking of laying low for a bit, just so I can re-check my bearings and plan for something new.

The remark triggered a series of responses from friends that centred more on the issue of loyalty of friendship, on being taken for granted, on being ignored and on the desire for reciprocal attention. Somewhat different from what I expected but interesting nonetheless.

The exchange of comments reached a sombre tone when my late friend whom I wrote about earlier, Roswati Abdul Wahab, joined the discussion by saying that she always look out for friends but sometimes friends tend to forget about her.

This prompted someone to reply : Ros, not forgotten. Dalam ingatan.

The response from Roswati : Dalam ingatan tu untuk orang dah tak ada.. agak2 bila I dah tak ada orang ingat tak kat I.. ehmmm agaknya terus lupa.. dah lah lost..

I guess at that time, my good friend was in low spirits, which is perfectly understandable if you know what she was going through. I put on my thinking hat to say something that would hopefully take away some of her gloom.

My response : Cikgu Ros, sometimes we cannot help if others forget about us... human nature being what it is. Actually, when we are gone it wouldn't matter if our friends remember us or not... because we wouldn't know about it anyway. The important thing is that while we are alive, we have done good for our friends.. that would be the measure.. 

And so my friend, I am saying this again... you have done remarkably good deeds for your friends while you were with us. You'll remain in our hearts. You rest well, Ros. God willing, we hope to join you in that promised place none too soon. Al-fatihah...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Makmum yang tidak mahu mengikut imam

Kira-kira dua minggu lepas, sahabat blogger saya, ayahanda Wan Sharif telah menulis di FB beliau tentang kisah seorang pegawai masjid yang kurang `user-friendly'. Beliau dan isteri telah singgah di masjid tersebut untuk melakukan solat isyak tetapi tidaklah mengikut jemaah lain kerana lewat sampai dari perjalanan.

Seorang pegawai masjid telah menutup kesemua lampu sedangkan isteri Wan Sharif masih mengambil wudhu. Apabila diberitahu bahawa masih ada orang dalam masjid, pegawai itu dikatakan telah menjawab, `Biarlah. Siapa suruh dia datang sembahyang lewat sangat.'

Kisah Sdra Wan Sharif ini telah mengingatkan kembali pengalaman saya sendiri tentang pegawai masjid yang tidak mesra pengguna ini.

Sekitar akhir tahun 1980an, saya bertugas sebagai seorang jurutera yang mengawasi beberapa projek pembinaan di negeri Johor. Satu petang, saya telah melawat tapak projek pembinaan rumah kedai di Kg. Melayu Majidee, Johor Bahru. Waktu telah hampir masuk solat asar, jadi saya pun menuju ke sebuah surau yang terletak tidak jauh dari tapakbina.

Saya sampai di surau tersebut ketika azan baru selesai dilaungkan. Saya terus mengambil wudhu dan mendirikan solat sunat. Dalam masa melakukan solat sunat, konsentrasi saya terganggu kerana bunyi suara kuat dari seseorang yang sedang membebel tentang sesuatu. Selesai solat sunat, saya menoleh keliling. Tidak ramai jemaah ketika itu, sekitar tujuh atau lapan orang sahaja. Suara yang kuat itu rupanya datang dari Pak Imam yang sedang berleter tentang sikap orang-orang muda yang tidak menghormati adab bersolat. Mukanya yang masam memandang sipi ke arah saya, seolah-olah menyindir. Saya hairan seketika... aku ada buat salah ke?

Bila iqamah dipanggil, saya pun bergerak untuk berdiri di saf belakang imam. Pak Imam itu mencampakkan tasbih di atas sejadah hadapan setiap makmum. Kemudian dia menunjuk ke arah saya dan dengan nada kasar berkata, `Awak pakai songkok!'

Aikk? Sejak bila pakai songkok menjadi rukun sembahyang? Saya tidak berkata apa-apa, cuma setakat mengangkat kedua tangan sebagai tanda, `Tak apalah...'

Pak Imam menjadi lebih marah dan warning pada saya, `Kalau gitu, awak jangan ikut kawan!'

Saya geleng kepala, pusingkan badan dan terus beredar dari saf. Saya masuk kereta, start enjin dan terus pecut ke arah sebuah lagi masjid yang berhampiran. Sempatlah saya bersolat asar dengan imam dan jemaah yang lain.

Peristiwa ini berlaku lebih 20 tahun yang lalu... tapi masih jelas dalam ingatan saya. Mengapakah sesetengah pegawai masjid mempunyai sifat yang sebegitu angkuh? Bukankah Islam itu menganjurkan supaya umatnya berlemah lembut dan tegur-menegur dengan cara yang berhemah?

Harap-harap tiadalah pemimpin-pemimpin agama kita yang macam ini lagi.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The passing of a kind-hearted soul

I had always thought that when the eventual event happens, I would be ready. I had rehearsed it over and over again in my mind, on how I would react to the situation. But I guess in the end, the shock and utter sadness of it will always overcome whatever preparedness we think we have.

My good friend and former classmate from secondary school, Roswati Abdul Wahab, went to Makkah to perform the hajj last month... but she is not coming back. She passed away three days ago.

Roswati and I studied at MRSM Kuantan. Apart from being classmates, both of us were active in the publication bureau of the school's student body. After completing our MCE exams in 1979, we lost touch with each other. She continued her studies at a local university while I went overseas.

In July of 2010 we re-discovered each other, thanks to Facebook of course. We exchanged news and met up again in reunions and gatherings. During the past two years, I learned more about what happened in her life during the `lost' 31 years. She got married while still at university, bore 3 children (a girl and twin boys), started work as a computer programmer in the private sector but ended up being a mathematics teacher in government schools. Some years ago, she was diagnosed with liver cancer. And as if that is not enough of a misfortune, her husband left her for another woman. Sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga...

Despite those challenges plus many more, she soldiered on with her life, always putting on a brave front to mask her suffering inside. She ventured out on a quest to search and re-discover old friends (especially the girls) from our MRSM days. I have a database of all the students in our batch which I used to help her recall names of long-lost friends. There were 121 students in the MCE/SPM 1979 batch, consisting of 87 guys and 34 girls. With the aid of Facebook plus a lot of actual legwork, she managed to track down all of the girls but one. But she did not just stop at being re-connected in cyberspace. She made the effort of actually visiting these friends to meet them in person, even though they are spread all over Malaysia. Her travels took her to Kedah, Trengganu, Pahang and Johor. At each meeting of a newly re-discovered friend, she would present a gift of her own handmade brooch (for the girls) and framed photo reprints (for the guys). Photographs taken at these reunions were then uploaded in a series of albums in her Facebook which were titled `Jejak Kawan'. In May of last year, she compiled the photos of all the girls into a collage and had it printed as a poster. Every girl that she re-discovered, got a copy.

All this she did while not being in the best of health... she seldom talk of her sickness with any of the friends. Most of us knew but not many dare broach the subject. I am one of the very few with whom she shares the state of her health.

She was slated for a chemotherapy treatment early next year and so decided that she has to perform the hajj this year. Otherwise, the chemo treatments would prevent her from travelling. At first she approached Tabung Haji to try secure a place but was not successful. She then went to a private travel agency to register under a scheme called Pakej Haji Tanpa Giliran. This package costs almost double of the basic Tabung Haji scheme and even so, is not a sure thing because it depends on the visa approval from the Saudi government. She was then told to wait for confirmation. She waited... and waited... and waited. By the grace of Allah swt, the travel agency managed to secure the visa for travel on the very last day of entry to Makkah for this year's hajj season.

She texted me a few times while she was there, giving brief updates of what she was doing. In her last sms to me on 28 October, she mentioned of having a sore throat and losing stamina. Her text message ended with the words, `Please pray for me...'

I prayed to the Almighty to give her the strength to complete her hajj rituals and to return home safely. But the Almighty loves her more and has chosen for her the final resting place in the holy land of Makkah.

I will miss you dearly, my friend. You had such a kind heart and were an inspiration to most of us. May the Almighty bless your soul and place you in paradise amongst the righteous.

This scanned pic from 1979 showing Roswati (in tudung) sitting next to me
This pic from July this year, my two classmates, Roswati (right) and Suzyanna (left)
The K79 poster girls