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.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

It's A Pie Thing

So it's been over a year since I wrote my last food review. I think it shows.

Opinions of the place seem divided; some liked it, others didn't. I wasn't too enthusiastic about the pie place initially. Then the pulled lamb happened. Give. It. A. Go. I'd return for the meat pies, and I think they have a limited-edition special at the moment.

Sorry about the odd photo dimensions; they were taken with a Samsung Grand smartphone.

Pie thing, you make my gut sing...

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 09 July 2014

Reading about pies in a Terry Pratchett novel (which isn't about pies) made me want to try something similar, but I was hard-pressed to think of a suitable pie place.

However, after a long caffeine-soaked afternoon with Melody's friends, that choice was made for me. "Let's give A Pie Thing a whirl," one of them suggested. "Maybe in a couple of weeks?"

Interior of A Pie Thing, Damansara Uptown

Since then, I've heard a thing or two about this pie place, all of which from makan kaki Melody. Seems pies are the hottest new thing in town and Klang Valley-dwellers have begun to take note.

So one Sunday evening, off we went to A Pie Thing at Damansara Uptown for dinner. Currently, this new kid on the block (only launched this May) only opens from four in the afternoon and closes at 11pm — or until all pies are sold out, says the chalkboard outside.

Savoury pies appear to be the focus, with several dessert pies like lemon curd, peanut butter and chocolate, and a flavour called "The Elvis" (peanut butter, chocolate and banana) to round up their offerings.

Among the savoury offerings are chicken and mushroom, "pulled lamb", chilli and cheese, and creamy spinach, tucked into coffee cup-sized casings of shortcrust pastry.

Aside from the rich brown gravy, patrons have the option of capping their pies with either mashed potatoes or mashed peas — or a combination of both, called "The Mashacre", which can also be paired with a soda or hot beverage to form a combo.

Beverages? Choose from a list of coffees, teas, and something called the Leonidas Dark Choc Latte, which sang to Melody: "Take me off the shelf, I'll show you a good time."

Left: Choose to crown your pies with mashed peas (foreground) or
good old mashed potatoes; Centre: Oh, succulent, saliva-pumping
savoury goodness; Right: Surprisingly, the Peanut Butter Brownie
was nice and not as filling as the savoury meat pies

Neither of us wanted to be "mashacred" this evening, and Melody's two friends haven't shown up yet. So we picked a pie each, with gravy and one topping. "Let's try these and see if we can recommend these to them later," she said.

I know you're famished, Mel. You told me so — twice — on the way here. No need to cover it up.

Melody's creamy spinach was subtly flavoured, so it needed the gravy — not just because the crust can be dry. The champions are undoubtedly the meat pies. The pulled lamb, for one, was sublime. Even the pastry itself was good, after it soaked up a good amount of gravy.

♪ ...pie thing, I ... think you move me... ♫

A Pie Thing
128G, Jalan SS21/35
Damansara Utama
47400 Petaling Jaya

Opening hours:
•  Tue - Thu, Sun: 4pm - 11pm
•  Fri - Sat: 4pm - midnight
•  Closed on Mondays

Twitter | Facebook

Halal, pork-free
By the time the other half of the pie party arrived and started ordering, we were almost done. So I decided on a chilli and cheese, which also had minced beef that was gamier compared to the lamb, said Melody. The flavour suited me fine, though they could have cut down on the salt.

The Dark Choc Latte was another odd thing. It came in two parts: a bottle of heated milk and a dark chocolate "lollipop." You unwrap the "lollipop", swirl it into the milk while it's still hot until almost nothing's left on the stick, and savour.

The flavour's pretty good, but the novelty of it doesn't last. If you're still not satisfied, a whole counter of other Leonidas products is available.

For me, it's the meat pies, hands down. Though they could re-think the use of the paper lining, which, despite being able to drink as much gravy as the pie crust, is hardly as appetising.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Still Honking After All These Years

Though it has been over seven years since Lydia Teh "honked" her way into the hearts of readers through her best-selling Honk! If You're Malaysian, it appears things haven't changed much since it was published. Yes, she is still honking. And she still is the typical Malaysian next door.

In Still Honking: More Scenes from Malaysian Life, Teh continues to hold up a mirror to the Malaysian psyche and way of life. Her light-hearted anecdotes capture the essence of being Malaysian.

Her whimsical tales and essays take the form of personal anecdotes, how-tos, newspaper-style columns, and hybrids of two or more of the aforementioned, all tinged with her (at times) fiery, sharp, straight-to-the-point wit and homespun wisdom.

Follow the chronology of a typical piece of world-class infrastructure via a series of acronyms. Pick up some ideas on how to deal with pesky sparrows, handling garbage-can theft, saving electricity, and promoting your book - should you decide to write one. Find out what you can use instead of a warning triangle when - heavens forbid - your car breaks down.

Get acquainted with some common archetypes of salespeople, queue-jumpers, "actors" and people who stare into mirrors - have you encountered one or more of these? Also, learn how to get your fussy children to take their medicine, brush their teeth, or eat their vegetables - maybe.

Still Honking
More Scenes from Malaysian Life

Lydia Teh
MPH Group Publishing (July 2013)
194 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-208-6

RM29 | Pre-order from
Closer to home, learn why a beloved pet's demise made her swear off roti canai for a while, laugh at her anxiety over her teens taking the wheel, and gawk at what happened when Phua Chu Kang aka Gurmit Singh and company arrived at her sister's place for a location shoot.

True-blue Malaysians and foreigners alike will still recognise the characters and situations in these snippets of what happens in the average (and not-so-average) Malaysian backyard and laugh (or maybe cry) at memories of something similar.

Some might be sad at the realisation that little has changed in this multicultural melting pot of a nation, but many others, perhaps, wouldn't want it any other way.

Lydia Teh hung up her well-worn apron after 17 years of staying home with her four children. She now runs an English-language centre in Klang. She writes a weekly column, "Family Teh Time", for The Sun newspaper on family life in general.

She's the best-selling author of Life's Like That: Scenes from Malaysian Life, Honk! If You're Malaysian and Do You Wear Suspenders? The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim. She can be reached through her web site at

Friday, July 04, 2014

From Kampung Kenang To Kasoa

When the manuscript arrived over two years ago, I'd felt that the book project, though interesting and well-intentioned, wouldn't make much of a splash.

From what I'd heard about it since, it did.

Compiled into a blook, the adventures of a new teacher who was posted to the interior gained quite a following, and the blog itself won the Malaysia Asia-Pacific ICT Alliance Award in 2011.

From Kampung Kenang in Perak to Kasoa, Ghana ... that's over 11,000km (or
more than 7,000 miles) - quite a distance between two books

I guess the emergence of a Book Two would not have been a surprise.

I was more involved with this project than the previous one, from editing and fact-checking to the initial selection and sequencing of the photos. This, along with the other book projects, took up quite a bit of my time, leaving me too tired to blog and stuff.

But looks like it was all worth it.

After several years of teaching maths at Sekolah Kebangsaan Kampung Kenang in Perak, Muhamad Hafiz Ismail, author of Life Through My Eyes: A Teacher's Little Steps Towards Perfection, left to embark upon a year-long programme for a Master in Education (MEd) in International Development and Education at Newcastle University in the UK.

As part of his studies, he ventured into the West African country of Ghana with a group of fellow students, to study the reflective practices of teachers in the country. Specifically, that of several schools run by Omega Schools, a social enterprise that aims to provide quality education at the lowest possible cost to the poor, located in the district of Kasoa in southern Ghana.

Quite a huge leap.

Sample pages from Life Through My Eyes 2; the design concept is similar
with the previous book, but both can be read as individual volumes

"I chose to study International Development and Education mainly because I wanted to learn about social entrepreneurship, which is still new in Malaysia," Hafiz writes. "Every child deserves the best education. I wanted to find out how I could make a difference by being a teacher and social entrepreneur."

A continuation of his blogged-about adventures in teaching and education, Life Through My Eyes 2: From Kampung Kenang to Kasoa mostly chronicles his time in Ghana and compares his experiences in Malaysia and the UK, with some personal musings in between.

Hafiz has chosen to immerse himself in a world where, despite poverty and lack of what many of us take for granted, people still put a premium on education. "In Ghana, advertisements for private and public schools are present at every road corner, market stall, or bus stop," he notes.

Sample two-page spread from Life Through My Eyes 2: a neighbourhood
somewhere in Kasoa, Ghana

Follow him as he bids goodbye to the teachers and pupils of Sekolah Kebangsaan Kampung Kenang and flies off to Newcastle, where he returns to the life of a student, to the hot dusty streets of Kasoa in Ghana, where the Omega Schools headquarters is located.

He witnesses first hand the spirit of learning within the students, most of whom come from poor families; learns about the culture: the language, traditional games and food and so on; explores some of the country's rural areas, historial sites and visits a national park; and gets a better grasp about another developing country's education system. To better teach the Ghanaian students traditional Malay games, he even learns a local song.

In the end, he comes away with new perspectives of his chosen field and the realisation that he still has more to learn and do as an educator.

Life Through My Eyes 2
From Kampung Kenang to Kasoa

Muhamad Hafiz bin Ismail
MPH Group Publishing (July 2013)
214 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-210-9

RM23.90 | Buy from
I learnt quite a bit about Ghana from working on this book, and I think readers will, too. More of our young people should look for new opportunities and experiences beyond our borders. To know that he was apparently criticised for his decision to study overseas and undertake his posting to Ghana was a bit sad.

But he's not letting that get him down.

"Still, I want to make my own choice, even though it might be the worst choice ever in other people's minds," he writes. "I want to make the biggest contribution that I can to other people, to education, to society. That is what drives my decision, my choice, my life. Better to regret doing it, rather than to regret not doing it at all."

Hafiz is now a consultant with Frogasia, a YTL initiative to "connect an entire nation through a single, cloud-based learning platform". Follow his further adventures at

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

When Wild Ain't Real

Like many on that day, I was stunned to learn of Steve Irwin's death. Back when I still had an Astro subscription, the "Crocodile Hunter" was a welcome distraction, as were his other fellow wildlife-championing daredevils.

Years later, comes this point of view, which would change my perceptions of the Crocodile Hunters of TV forever.

Austin Stevens pets (reluctant) king cobra
King cobra: "I'm a celebrity?
Get me outta here!" Photo
from here.
"Five years on, the pet-and-pester approach he pioneered has become the standard way for nature programs to produce cheap dramatic footage — reality TV with claws," writes Andrew Marshall in that piece. "Turn on any channel and you'll see Irwin lookalikes hassling animals. They declaim their love of nature, while unwittingly recording our dysfunctional relationship with it, teaching our children to both fear and subjugate creatures already pushed to the brink of extinction."

Dancing with death
Anybody remember Austin Stevens? The "snakeman, herpetologist, adventurer, photographer, filmmaker" and "author"? I do. But not Andrew Marshall, apparently. The shift in thought I'd just mentioned was reinforced when watching him again one day.

In an episode of Austin Steven's Most Dangerous, he was looking for a king cobra. At one point he voiced his frustrations at not being able to find one. Then, by the law of the last 15 minutes - huzzah! - they found a wild specimen. Watching him sweatily dance around a snake that just wanted to get the hell out of there was excruciating. Not content to get his photos, he also wanted to pet the snake, something he "wanted to do" for years. And when he does, oh boy, does he sound ever so elated.

If you'd seen it, you'd be rooting for the snake, too.

Even before Steve-O's untimely demise, the nature show machine was already becoming more and more mass-market. It's good television, provided that the core messages were also being sent. Now, I'm no longer sure that's the case.

Well... maybe these wildlife experts are experts. Maybe they do love nature enough to know they shouldn't molest potentially lethal species for television. Maybe there are times when they would advise against all these stunts.

But TV demands an audience, one that's developing an appetite for mindless action and gore nurtured by the entertainment and games industry. And so, even experts have to bend over and violate a few moral tenets for exposure and a living. Kind of like the chefs in those reality and travels shows.

Sending (and receiving) the wrong signals
While the proliferation of celebrity chefs would do relatively little harm, I feel that the nature show industrial complex played a role in the mess caused by the exotic pet industry. A few TV shows and an Internet-enabled device and somebody's an "expert" on Burmese pythons and monitor lizards.

Did they miss the part about Burmese pythons being able to grow up to 7 feet long within a year, if cared for properly? Or that a 10-footer can easily kill a child? Or the massive sizes they can achieve if kept alive for years?

Exotic pet industry advocates say the trade creates jobs, fosters understanding about wildlife and the environment, and so on. Well, the firearms industry creates jobs too. But people can't be counted on to be responsible with their pets or guns all the time.

These exotic pet traders expect their customers to be knowledgeable and responsible pet keepers. The Burmese and African rock python invasion of Florida's Everglades is the result, possibly due to the negligence of a few irresponsible individuals. The snakehead "invasion" in Maryland was reportedly caused by one fellow.

And how does taking a Burmese python out of Burma help in understanding nature and the environment? Or help in conservation, even? Why should little Timmy have a bearded dragon, just because it's cool to have one and "Mark down in Shepford Avenue has one too and oh, his dad keeps a Gaboon viper"?

Male lion facepaw
"Muskingum... oh G*d, that was awful.
I close my eyes and I can still see it...
Photo from here.
The so-called wild creatures can't demonstrate their roles in their natural habitat when they're not in their natural habitat. Nor can they speak for themselves, which is why we need real animal experts. I don't think the commercial exotic pet trade helps with this at all.

Those traded animals that didn't come from a factory farm were likely caught illegally from habitats that may not afford the loss of these species. The National Geographic article on the Asian wildlife trade still fills me with shame and fury, as does the extermination of the animals in Muskingum, Ohio.

And how can these wild creatures be compared to other domesticated animals such as dogs and cats? A pet shop is not a Toys-R-Us. Kids will get bored with their toys, just as they will with pets. And there are no recycle bins for unwanted African rock pythons or Indian star turtles.

Coming home to roost - or nest
We often fail to understand that many of this planet's creatures evolved to perform certain duties necessary to keep the circle of life going. The effects of any unnatural tampering of this circle may not be known for years and by the time they're felt, it's often to late.

With regards to pythons in the Everglades, nobody knows exactly how these snakes react when placed in a foreign habitat. Will they be eventually killed by the climate, or will they evolve to fill the niche they're placed in?

Wildlife experts now fear the possibility of the latter, a worst-case scenario where these pythons would spread beyond Florida or, worse, breed a hybrid Burmese-African super python.

Sceptics argue that snakes won't survive the winters outside Florida and, hell, we ain't seen a super snake yet. That's because the twain hath never met - Burma, Africa, you know. But now that both species are sharing the same neighbourhood, it may only be a matter of time.

Keep it real
Not to denigrate the good work these wildlife warriors do off-camera, but I don't really feel the action-adventure circuit does much good for wildlife conservation or the reputation of the related professions in the long run.

Not when the nature channels appear to be pandering more and more to the action-adventure- and blood-and-guts-loving demographic, distilling their subjects down to tiny yummy, bloody bites for an increasingly attention-deficient dumbed-down audience.

I'm not sure they dance with crocs or wrestle great white sharks onto boats for tagging, measuring and DNA sampling for the glam. It's hard work, more a labour of love or a duty to inform. Cliché, perhaps, but that's what I'd like to believe.

(I've not heard of researchers who treat field work as a "job", but I'm sure they exist).

Just as these shows reduce these dedicated men and women to Crocodile Hunters, Snake Busters or Shark Men, these wild animals and their roles in their exclusive ecological niches are similarly reduced to just stripes, spots, fins, scales and sharp teeth, to be gawked at, feared or admired, and perhaps owned. Trophies, trinkets, ornaments. Status symbols.

These people and the wildlife they work with are more than that. And it's time we all learn how much.

I wrote this back in 2012, partly in response to an article that commemorated Steve Irwin, a few years after his death. Things are hectic at the company, which is why there are more pictures than prose around here these days, and only when I can be bothered - not even enough time to compile the space-filling listicles I used to be fond of.