Friday, August 22, 2014

Masterclass In Session: 30-Minute Meals With Sara

If there's anything food-loving Malaysians are starved for, besides good places to dine out, is time - more so for urban-dwellers. After a long day at the office and long hours in traffic jams, sweating behind a stove (and maybe doing laundry by hand) is the last thing on their minds.

So we eat out, commuting and enduring more traffic jams along the way. But outside fare is not necessarily healthy, as online entrepreneur Sara Khong learnt.

"The full attention I gave to my newly established online fashion business led me to give up the luxury of home-cooked food altogether," says Khong. "Meals consisted of takeaway chicken rice in Styrofoam boxes or nasi lemak in brown paper. The pizza delivery guy became a familiar friend; when I was at my busiest, I had pizza for every meal for a few days straight!"

Unsurprisingly, this lifestyle began taking its toll.

"I lost a lot of weight, looked scrawny and sickly, and had little energy to do anything I enjoyed," she says. "Going to the doctor was a monthly affair."

Faced with this, Khong decided to dine in more often. She began formulating strategies and tips that enabled fast, less-hassle cooking with the help of modern kitchen appliances and useful household items utilising the latest technology.

Over time, her health returned and she found joy in her work and her quest to simplify and speed up the preparation of certain Malaysian dishes, as well as sharing her gospel of fast home-cooking on social media and her online lifestyle portal,

(Yes, kitchen experiments can be fun, as I can attest.)

Now, her time-saving tips and recipes can be found in Malaysian Meals in 30 Minutes, the newest addition to the MPH Masterclass Kitchen series.

From kitchen organisation, food storage guidelines and selection of kitchen tools, utensils and appliances to tips on picking quick-to-prepare dishes and cooking them faster, let Khong show you how you can whip up a dish - a full meal, even - within half an hour.

Pick from one of the many featured hawker-stall staples such as wantan mee, nasi lemak, Portuguese grilled fish and BBQ chicken wings; then pair it up with a sago gula Melaka, sweet potato soup, or maybe cekodok and drinks such as teh tarik and chrysanthemum tea.

One thing all of these recipes have in common is that they use few ingredients and prep time for everything is short - or as short as she can make it.

"These few meals should be fast to prepare and use common ingredients which are readily available in your pantry and refrigerator," she says. "It should be one of your favourite foods, made so frequently you need not refer to a cookbook and can prepare speedily."

And you won't necessarily need the knife-wielding skills of a three-star executive chef.

Khong also recommends maximising the use of whatever you have in your kitchen. Those clunky chicken scissors can slice chillies, long beans and spring onions, and you can cut up an onion with an apple corer. Got a gas stove with multiple burners? Use 'em all if you have to, but keep an eye on them.

Malaysian Meals in 30 Minutes
Sara Khong
MPH Group Publishing (August 2014)
178 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-073-0

RM35.90 | More details soon
Still not enough time? She also provides menu suggestions for some typical meals. Living near Jalan Alor during her childhood is perhaps why virtually all her book's recipes are all warung, kopitiam or mamak stall fare.

The point is, ultimately, to get busy people eating healthy - or at least, healthier than usual. Cooking your own meals is one way - you manage what goes in and determine the size of the portions. Plus, you'd gain some essential life skills in the process.

"My aim is for this book to be more than just a collection of good recipes and nice photographs," writes Khong. "I want it to be a practical guide to inspire busy people to start cooking. If you can't cook during the weekdays, try to at least cook on the weekends. I encourage you to eat in!"

For more tips and recipes - not just for cooking - visit

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

MPH Quill, Issue 42, July to September 2014

Yes, MPH's Quill magazine is still being produced. This issue has radio and TV host Azura Zainal (whose masterclass on hosting we'd published.

(Yes, I may have skipped an issue or two. Work and all that.)

Highlights include:

  • Leon Wing looks at smartphone addiction and highlights some serious mishaps involving the devilish devices.

  • Charmaine Augustin goes from broadcasting to gourmet foods with her venture Passion Doux. Shantini Suntharajah speaks to her about her sweet business.

  • Shantini also chats with HR consultant, cat lady and maestro of macarons Anna Tan on coaching, cats and cakes.

  • HANDS Percussion and their latest production, Tchaikovsky on Gamelan, is also featured in this issue. Several of my colleagues attended the performance last night.

  • Juan Margrita Gabriel went to Pulau Banding and the Belum Rainforest Resort and was captivated by what she found there.

  • Who's "Storm Chase" and how did he/she end up contributing these tips to "rescue your relationship"?

All this and more in this issue.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Masterclass In Session: Franchising With Sofia

The franchise industry in Malaysia has always received strong government support. But while many businesses have benefited from growing franchise opportunities, many potential franchisors and franchisees don't know where to start.

With the release of Sofia Leong Abdullah's Guide to Franchising in Malaysia, the latest volume in the MPH Masterclass series, the author hopes to help them out.

Sofia Leong Abdullah is the founder of her own franchise consultancy. Her vast experience in multiple industries, including hospitality, food and beverage, property management, make her eminently suited to advising aspiring entrepreneurs on franchising.

She also had stints as the franchise brand manager for Roasters Asia Pacific (M) Sdn Bhd, which brought (and later bought) Kenny Rogers' Roasters; and CEO of the Malaysian Franchise Association.

"The franchise business model is very interesting," Sofia notes. "It allows existing businesses to grow in ways that would have been very difficult to do on their own, while giving aspiring entrepreneurs a chance to become businesspeople in their own right."

Even so, misunderstanding abounds. "Franchisors are often in the dark about the kinds of preparation that goes into getting their businesses ready to be franchised," she says. "On the other hand, potential franchisees mistakenly expect to be handed everything on a silver platter."

This book is an extension of her efforts to help grow the franchise business in Malaysia. Readers will find information on franchising, such as its history in Malaysia, and some of the more popular sectors that use this business strategy: food and beverage, education, services, and so on.

Learn what franchisors and franchisees should expect before embarking upon a business, as well as potential pitfalls and tips for success for each of the sectors highlighted in this book.

Myths of franchising as a risk-free business model are busted. And few could imagine that brands such as Singer and Bata were among the first franchises to enter Malaysia in the 1940s. "At that time, we simply recognised them as two international brands, not franchised outlets," writes Sofia.

Aspiring franchisors and franchisees can also expect some case studies, as well as a look at the legal issues in franchising, and where to find additional support and information.

Sofia Leong Abdullah's Guide to Franchising in Malaysia
Sofia Leong Abdullah
MPH Group Publishing (August 2014)
146 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-223-9

RM35.90 | Buy from
"Running a franchise consultancy gives me the chance to share my experience and knowledge of the industry with keen businesspeople eager to start franchising," says Sofia. "Now, writing this book allows me to reach out to far more people than my consultancy alone could ever achieve."

Overall, the success (or failure) of a franchise depends on the people who run it. "Any form of business comes with its own set of challenges and it's how you overcome these challenges that determines the longevity of your business," says Sofia. "Franchising merely provides the new business owner (the franchisee) access to a working business system."

Friday, August 01, 2014

"Remember Us"

This book was, in retrospect, reviewed on impulse.

But the "emissary" said I just had to, had to read it. Maybe she was that blown away by the tale of that 14-year-old who followed her dad to Gaza.

To a certain degree, I was. Perhaps you'd be, too.

A book that does more than tell stories

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 01 August 2014

Palestine has always been an emotional topic, so I've largely stayed out of it. But a tiny piece of Palestine arrived at my desk, begging me for a look.

"I visited an NGO and they gave me this," said the emissary, who even bookmarked a couple of what she thought were the best parts.

Remember Us: Stories of Struggles, Hopes and Dreams is a project by Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM), a group of NGOs pushing for the creation of a free sovereign Palestinian state.

This book puts together poems, short stories and real-life accounts of what's going on in the area by residents and visiting activists. What's striking is that the contributors and the "creative editors" are all women.

Even before I opened the first page I knew what I'd find inside. The Malaysian pro-Palestinian bias is pretty thick, and while some also blame certain quarters within the Palestinian resistance for their role in prolonging the conflict, none of the contributors seem to feel that way.

Most, if not all of the non-fiction accounts, read like dispatches from oh so many online news portals that have been bringing the horrors of the conflict to audiences, telling them of their sojourns into hostile territory and of the lives of those who live there.

An old woman who kept the keys to her home that she was driven away from, clinging on to the hope that she would return to it.

The frustrations of a young lady whose life and pastimes are dampened by daily power supply interruptions.

Another young lady's visit to a foreign country (mine) and her written exchange with American academic Noam Chomsky (really?).

Yet another young lady's anguish and fury at the death of her friends in the hands of Israeli forces, which she says makes her a "terrorist" because "I want the Palestinian refugees to get their land back, and I call the Israeli army a group of cold-hearted murderers all the time."

She makes a particular mention of one young victim. "Haneen did not know what a cold-hearted murderer is... She was a 6-year-old girl who was split into little pieces while in bed. Haneen was too young to die. But who cares about Haneen's death, anyway? She was a terrorist, too."

Among the several Malaysian contributors was a 14-year-old girl (by now I'm all "where are all the men OMG so embarrassed for my gender") who was brought to visit Gaza by her dad, the chairman of VPM; it's her adventure that this book's emissary was gushing about.

Said 14-year-old's short entry ends with a small punch in the gut: "I hope one day I will get the chance to visit Gaza again to volunteer and make myself useful, instead of just finishing their limited supplies of food."

Now, the editing could be tighter, the flow between stories better managed, the cover better designed, and the overall narrative tips heavily towards the Palestinians. But all this melts under the heat of the emotions that emanate from the pages. One can't help but wonder...

What would life for these people be, devoid of the fear of missiles in their living rooms, their roofs collapsing on top of them at night, being picked off by snipers or stray bullets while buying produce at the market, and being dragged away from some checkpoint by armed men, possibly never to return?

Remember Us
Stories of Struggles, Hopes and Dreams

Zabrina A. Bakar and Husna Musa (editors)
Wise Words Publishing (2013)
178 pages
Mix of fiction and non-fiction
ISBN: 978-967-12261-0-0

RM30 | Buy from:
•  Web site

3.0 out of 5
What would these people achieve in a world where the air is clean, free of the smell of explosives and burning flesh, chemicals from supposedly forbidden weapons and the wails of grieving fathers, mothers and children? Where they are allowed to live like free people should?

What would it take for the world to stand up, cast aside its collective historical and mental baggage, and do something to make it happen? And not just in the territories occupied by Israel?

It's perhaps a pity that we only get to hear 20 or so voices here, and even these may be forgotten, silenced and swept away by yet another tide of hate, anger, grief, outrage and indignation raised by a fresh salvo of bombs and bullets.

But to resign oneself to this would be an act of surrender, and none of the contributors — Palestinians and Malaysians alike — want to do that just yet. As long as there are those who speak up from and for the occupied territories, the plight of its people — and hope for their freedom — will never be forgotten.

This book is a project by Viva Palestina Malaysia. More information on VPM can be found at their web site; more information on the book can be found here.

Punctuation for one paragraph in this version has been changed. The previously supplied Facebook link is bad; the right Facebook page appears to be this one.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Masterclass In Session: Babywearing With Adriana

After the successful Masterclass and Masterclass Kitchen series, MPH Group Publishing is kicking off a new line, the MPH Parenting series, with Adriana Thani's Babywearing Made Simple.

Though still practised in other parts of the world, babywearing as a parenting tool was apparently extinct in most industrialised nations, Adriana claims, until the past decade, thanks in part to celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie and Orlando Bloom(!).

This practice of carrying or "wearing" a baby with a soft carrier is said to help babies sleep better, cry less and become calmer, while those who wear their babies are free to move around and go about their daily duties without neglecting their wards.

"Research has shown that re-enacting the womb during 'the fourth trimester' — essentially, the first three months after the baby is born — is important for a baby’s physical, mental, and emotional growth, Adriana says. "Babywearing helps extend the 'womb experience', allowing the baby the time to slowly get used to living outside the womb."

Adriana's introduction to babywearing was when she had her first child, a "very restless baby", in 2007, while she was still in university. When she failed to calm her baby down, she tried "wearing" him, and has since become a huge fan and cheerleader of the practice.

Upon graduation, she returned to Malaysia and, along with other moms who were big on babywearing, founded the non-profit advocacy organisation called Malaysian Babywearers (MBW).

Though more and more parents in Malaysia are wearing their babies, Adriana notes that more still needs to be done to create awareness about babywearing. That's when she began to consider writing a book, know known as Babywearing Made Simple.

Inside, she lists the benefits of this practice; provides detailed descriptions of carriers, such as slings and wraps, and illustrated instructions on their use and safety tips; pointers on how to look stylish while carrying babies, and more.

Babywearing Made Simple
Adriana Thani
MPH Group Publishing (July 2014)
168 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-222-2

RM35.90 | Buy from
A handy list of resources and glossary of terms are also available, which includes web addresses of online resources for more advice, tips and the related equipment, and blogs of seasoned baby-wearing parents, including Adriana's.

"I hope this book will eventually play some part in the further growth of the babywearing community and become a tool for babywearing advocacy in Malaysia," she writes. "More importantly, I hope it can give you, dear reader, the ability to safely, comfortably and confidently keep your baby close enough to kiss!"

For more information, visit Adriana's blog at Diaries of a Glam Mama and the Malaysian Babywearers Facebook page

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How It Grates When Your Ginger Milk Doesn't Curdle

Things are still busy over at the office, so I'm still not writing as much as I should. Perhaps making this a books-focused blog wasn't a good idea. At some point, one would be scrambling to find something to fill the gaps with and feel that it isn't enough.

So here's a bowl of home-made ginger milk curd.

The surface is a little pockmarked because of air bubbles from stirring
the milk with a whisk; perfectionists eyeing a smooth alabaster surface
can use a wooden spoon - and slower movements

This is the trickiest thing I've made so far. They key to the success of this dessert lies in the ginger and the temperature of the milk. Too hot or too cold and the milk won't congeal into the custard-like consistency you want in an almost magical process that involves the enzyme zingipain, found in ginger.

Old ginger root, which has a very fibrous core, is recommended, as it's said to be richer in the enzyme; if the ginger is too young or soft, the fibres are finer and fewer and you'll have to use more of it.

So far, only two out of my seven or eight attempts at this dessert were successful. Other times, all I got was ginger-flavoured milk which is also good, but not what I was aiming for.

After many failures, this is practically an event - World Cup, what's that?

All I do is heat the milk to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer. I sweeten it with honey, resisting the urge to use any kind of cane sugar - which they say we're having too much of, whether brown or 'organic'. No exact measurements for the honey - I just add and stir until the colour's to my liking.

Because the ginger I currently have can be considered young, I grate a whole pile of it (maybe four to five inches worth) before the milk goes into the saucepan. While the milk is heating up, squeeze the ginger juice over a strainer or sieve into a bowl or mug, and set it aside.

When it's time to pour the milk, give the ginger juice a stir. If the juice has been sitting there for a while, you might find a layer of what feels like chalk or powdered starch at the bottom. Stir this up so that it mixes with the juice; one or two recipes says this helps the curdling process.

I then turn off the heat and let the milk cool a bit before pouring the milk into the bowl with the ginger juice. Then I leave it alone. This is another stage where the recipe tends to fail. Some recommend a temperature of between 40°C and 70°C, but this is cooking, not science. Just make sure the milk isn't boiling when it's time to pour.
Though a lot of recipes say the milk will congeal within three minutes, but I tend to set it aside for a little longer (up to ten minutes). I also keep it covered with a small dish or saucer to keep the heat in - and the creepy crawlies out.

If you think the warm stuff is good, wait till you eat it after it's chilled

I'm not the type who often experiments with various milks, so I stick with the ingredients that I've been successful with: full cream milk (none of that UHT stuff, that's milk-flavoured water), honey, ginger, and maybe a little prayer for success. But the grating - oh g*ds, the grating.

I might have to use a different ginger root, however.

Some additional points:

  • I don't grate the ginger or extract the juice and store it for later use. Ginger has quite a few enzymes and they might degrade with time. It's better to grate and squeeze it fresh. The milk can simmer for a bit longer while you do it, and it'll thicken, which means a creamier curd.

  • If it fails, don't rescue it with more ginger juice, additional heating, or both. You're likely to end up with a partially curdled mess that might not taste good, as I did once. Let the failure cool, drink it up, and try again next time. But my refusal to admit defeat one evening led me to drink about a litre of failure.

  • If you're making multiple servings, keep at least one in the fridge to cool. It'll taste even better.

  • Resist the urge to throw in flavours like vanilla extract, coffee or pandan, as it might mix with the ginger and produce a not-so-ideal taste. ...Okay, maybe pandan might be worth a try.

'k, good luck.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Masterclass In Session: Bread-baking with Ezekiel

Bread is a staple in many cultures worldwide, found in many shapes and sizes, and enjoyed by many in different ways.

The earliest breads were said to have been made around 10,000 years ago, though some have argued that bread goes back some 30,000 years. Its presence in the cuisines of much of the world speaks of its appeal and role in the lives of many families.

Few can resist the aroma that wafts out of a bakery, the sweet scent reminiscent of caramelised sugar, butter and toasted gluten that, when inhaled, rings louder than any bell that says, "Breakfast's ready!"

Those seeking the joys of bread-making or hankering for the heady scent and taste of freshly baked goodness, take heart. Bread-baking instructor Ezekiel Ananthan brings you this masterclass in bread-making, which incorporates his experience in a New Zealand bakery and background in local cuisine.

"I've always been passionate about baking bread," Ezekiel writes. "I’m intrigued at how a few simple ingredients like flour, yeast, salt and water could combine and magically transform into something so delicious.

"Working in a New Zealand bakery that emphasised the importance of craft in baking bread changed the course of my life. The experience inspired me to start my own brand of hand-crafted artisanal bread."

Recipes abound in this volume. Learn the art (and science) of baking breads from around the world, from basics such as the classic white loaf, roti canai, baguette and ciabatta to the Japanese melon pan, Hokkaido milk loaf and deep south cornbread from the US.

Zeke (let's call him Zeke for the sake of brevity) introduces us to the main ingredients in bread, and to the steps and techniques in basic bread-making before guiding us in baking our first white loaf.

After traipsing through the world via a selection of "Asian", "European", "sweet" and "international" breads, he shares with us several recipes and custom creations. Red velvet buns and oven-baked lamb roti, anyone?

Zeke is one real bread nerd. How he talks about making pre-ferment and starters, kneading, mixing, baking and the like makes you want to dive into the action yourself. "There is no other French bread that catches the imagination like the baguette," he enthuses, "and there's also no other bread that will test bakers like the baguette."

Home-baked Breads
Ezekiel Ananthan
MPH Group Publishing
192 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-224-6

RM39.90 | Buy from
On another French bread: "Many French breads are rich in butter and eggs, which makes them a great choice for breakfast, or to make French toast with. The brioche is no different. There have been many times while I was making the brioche that I thought to myself, 'This bread is just 20g of butter away from becoming a cake!'"

So, get acquainted with the basic ingredients in bread and the alchemy involved that transforms them into fragrant, flavourful loaves; learn to avoid the pitfalls in making your first loaf; and discover the pleasure of biting into the fruits of your labour.

You'll soon learn that bread-making can be fun – and delicious.