Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Beginnings Of An Epicurean Editor?

I recently cooked a spaghetti aglio olio for an early pre-Christmas party. Nothing new about that, except...

I used Chinese-style roasted pork belly, along with sun-dried tomatoes. Well, it was sort of inspired by the Pork Lover's Aglio Olio from Three Little Pigs & The Big Bad Wolf in Bangsar Village.

I cooked for six people.

It took place in someone else's bigger, better-equipped kitchen. I had to use a wok to toss the ingredients and it was hard work. But the experience left me with, among other things, kitchen envy.

Stirring up a storm in a kitchen (left) and the final product

It was the first time I'd made spaghetti for anyone else, outside the home - and I somehow got it al dente. At least the assembled thought it was.

And I'd only seriously begun what most would call "cooking" several months ago.

One thing I didn't know, though, was to toss the freshly cooked spaghetti strands in olive oil to keep them from sticking together. One of the hosts pointed that out as I struggled to free the strands from congealing into a heavy tangled mass.

Everybody loved it, and I'm sure they weren't just being polite. Two partygoers took home what was left for dinner the next day - I'm not sure if it would taste the same.

I've been dabbling with some pasta recipes of late, the latest step in my progression towards some degree of self-sufficiency in the home kitchen.

A curried carrot-potato soup with a drizzle of olive oil and
some sunflower seeds (used chicken-stock cubes, so it tasted
like something out of a Maggi packet)

An earlier version of my roast pork-belly pasta; it's advisable
to cut the meat to smaller pieces and fry them with the garlic
before tossing the whole lot with the pasta

The seeds of that might have been planted during a lunch date with a former colleague. I used to do the occasional restaurant review for the media back then, and when she knew about this, she asked if I cooked anything myself. I didn't.

"How can you write about food when you don't cook?" she asked, puzzled. "Isn't that kind of hypocritical?"

I don't know about her cooking skills but, man, she doesn't mince words. That stayed with me since, even though I can throw something simple together now.

My idea of a good hot chocolate is a bit different; this cup is a
mix of Valrhona Guanaja (70% dark) and Jivara (milk chocolate)

Here, I use Whittaker's Dark Ghana, and split it into two
portions: one plain and the other with cinnamon

Since my first experiments with milkshakes and smoothies with a blender, I've been wondering about what else I can do with my hands besides what I do at work with red pens and highlighters.

Putting things in ovens and heating them to death doesn't count as cooking in my book, though I have tried doing that as well - less cleaning up than dishes that require fire and a pot or pan.

A baked salmon - not much work required and great as a lean dinner
when served with blanched vegetables

Pigs in blankets, with a little bit extra (garlic and herbs). These later
burst out of their skins (and blankets) under the intense heat, but I
never got around to solving that problem - yet

After I first boiled a bunch of tri-coloured spirals (not sure what they were really called), I've had plenty of successes with pastas aglio olio - a no-brainer of a dish. You don't even have to fry the pasta.

Sauce-based ones were a bit trickier. An attempt at a sardine thingy left my spirals wallowing in some orange-coloured, sardine-flavoured slurry that smelled strongly of fish oil and tasted fine.

Several attempts at a curry-sauce variety were not as successful. The first time, I used too much masala powder. Another time, I got something that smelled and tasted vaguely of Nyonya-styled chilli paste (I used shallots instead of onions).

Every time, I got a bitter taste in the spice mix or sauce. I've learnt since then that some curries need cream. I used Greek yoghurt in my last experiment.

Not-very-good curry sauce pasta; used sausages because I wanted
the protein but nothing good was available

But I'm not giving up. Hell, if my Dad managed to make the family's chicken curry once....

And I'm guessing that these skills will come in handy when we start paying extra for tolls, electricity, petrol and stuff, on top of the GST that's coming on April 2015.

But more importantly ... can I write about food now? Or do I need to learn how to cook and rest a steak next?

As I post this, I'm recovering from a(nother) throat infection - and a bout of possible food poisoning, both of which occurred on Christmas Eve. I feel like I'm being told something, but I'm not sure what exactly.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, 23 December 2013

News: Cooking Anarchy, Letter-Writing, And Whatever

William Powell, author of The Anarchist Cookbook regrets writing it and wants it out of print.

Written when he was 19 and angry, "the central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this."

No kidding, considering that the book, dubbed by some as a "murder manual", has been linked to a bunch of violent plots. But the book's publisher, who owns the rights, wants to keep it on the shelves.

What goes on the Web, stays on the Web, they say. Looks like the same goes for print.

So, what else went on?

  • The ten best lines from Anthony Bourdain's Kindle Singles Q&A makes you want to pick it up
  • No Mistake, an editor's memoir. Wondering if it's anything like a tell-all a la Kitchen Confidential?
  • RIP Paul Torday, author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
  • The seemingly random list of books banned from Guantánamo.
  • The argument for negative book reviews, partly in response to Buzzfeed's 'ban' on them.
  • has an infographic on what it considers the top ten grammar mistakes and why they should be avoided, brought to you by Lifehacker.
  • I don't know enough about NYT columnist Ross Douthat's (almost spelled it "Doubthat") "notorious" mansplaining tendencies, but this attempt at reviewing books with his mindset sounds interesting.
  • E-mail killed the art of writing letters? Nuh-uh, says a WaPo review of To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon Garfield. "In 1919, the Yale Review lamented that 'the art of writing letters has been lost,' with blame cast on the telephone, the typewriter, the telegraph, even the train — for delivering letters too promptly."
  • Heartbreaking: the looting of one of Italy's oldest libraries - and the librarian was among the culprits.
  • So Facebook wants to know why you didn't share that status update: Well, WHAT'S IT TO YOU, FACEBOOK?
  • John Scalzi reminisces on the word processors he's used through the ages: He also rebuffs the notion that "self-loathing is in the writer's blood". And here's his take on the "death of the blog".
  • Why putting numbers in text might not be a good idea.
  • Is this real? Someone who has a severe allergy to (particles trapped in) BOOKS?
  • Is the small book the answer to our TL;DR syndrome?
  • Tired of selfies? Here are some "shelfies" - and they don't disappoint.
  • Because it's France, France decided that it needed a French word for sexting "because the phenomenon often comes up in legal cases", apparently.

    And it seems that the word that annoys Americans the most is ... "whatever".

Not book-related, but I found this article about Ooi Eow Jin, Malaysia's "forgotten" music man, a somewhat powerful piece of writing. Read it before he and his era are forgotten again.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Desolation Of Smug

November 2013 marks my third year as a books editor. Though I had few illusions as to what I'd be facing when I took this job, these three years have thrown quite a fair bit my way.

"Spend one year in this job and you'll see it all," I was told. Well, not quite. I ended up believing I ain't seen nothin' yet.

Certain issues keep me from fully chronicling my editorial exploits in public. What I can say, though, is plus ça change, plus c'est la même. What does change is the pace. Production has been ramped up of late and it's hard to keep up.

Nine months after I had my sinuses operated on, they have started running again. Just when I've gotten used to sniffle-free mornings.

These days and a little while back, my days looked just like this:

Hint: I'm the one with the sword (photo from here)

And the dragon often won.

My ego - or what's left of it - has taken a beating in the past few months. Not since my brief stint in the media have I experienced anything similar. Although I will always regard the ego-kicking I received in my media stint as the hardest.

In a previous life, I was considered among the best technical writers in my company. My skills in documenting were in demand. My command of English was once graded "superb".

But all that didn't help a lot with the copywriting and editing I'm doing today. There are techniques to be even better at those, which I have yet to master.

Don't be fooled into thinking that cookbooks and children's books are easy-peasy because of the simple grammar and writing style. Blind spots will appear and you'll be left red-faced.

It's been a long, hard comedown from those heady tech-writing days.

I have some hope that the next year will bring new things, more things. Right now, I'm also looking at the press releases and promo materials, besides the growing pile of manuscripts under my care.

I'm also hoping to acquire skills and means that will help me edit 'scripts better, en route towards being a reputable editor that strikes awe into hearts and minds.

I imagine that one day, after a couple of decades, a mountain of 'scripts, gallons of red ink and a dozen or so best-sellers, every meeting with an aspiring author will look like this:

Hint: I'm NOT the one with the sword (photo from here)

I was told that I'm a simple man with low-key preferences, no lofty ambitions, and no desire for the spotlight. True in a sense.

But I think I might have the makings of an ambition now.

First, I need to revisit the other parts of my life I seem to keep neglecting: time management, sleep schedules and priorities.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Masterclass In Session: Fashion With Carven

Zang Toi. Jimmy Choo. Melinda Looi. Edmund Ser.

Carven Ong’s Guide to the Fashion Industry
You've heard of them, wore them, seen them in the papers and magazines, and maybe took pictures with them at some glitzy fashion do.

Some of you probably think, "Wow, isn't this the life! I could probably do this too."

Hold that thought. A fashion designer and industry veteran has a few words for you before you jump in.

The latest in the MPH Masterclass series, Carven Ong's Guide to the Fashion Industry, is not merely a guidebook on how to become a fashion designer. Rather, it is tailored for all those aspiring to make the cut in the glamorous, yet competitive world of fashion.

Fashion designer Carven Ong packed the sum of his experiences in the fashion industry into this book's ten chapters for this purpose. "This book is an opportunity for me to share my knowledge experience on a wide range of fashion industry topics, with those who are interested in entering the fashion industry," says Ong.

Fashion-industry aspirants, whether one wants to be a buyer, boutique owner, or follow in the footsteps of Ong, will find much to appreciate in the pages.

Ong uses his own personal story - one of missed opportunities, luck, and determination - to illustrate the potential payoffs and pitfalls that lie on the road towards fashion stardom. Behind the glitz and glamour of the catwalk and dressed boutique windows is a lot of hard work and, for the unprepared, stress.

Screenshot of Carven Ong’s web site
Carven Ong's web site and online showcase,

Readers will be guided towards the proper way to enter the fashion industry. But first: do you want to just design clothes in the background, or do you want a share of the limelight as the progenitor of your own styles? That sets the framework of your business plan, which Ong recommends one does first.

"Be prepared to run a marathon, not a sprint," he writes. "It won't be easy, and the stronger your foundation, the higher your chances of success."

Also outlined are some of the processes involved in product development, be it for a couture or prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) business, as well as things to note when sourcing and using materials such as fabric and lace, some branding and marketing strategies, advice on opening boutiques and online stores, and more.

Gifted in the arts and an eye for style, it was natural that Ong would embark on a career in fashion.

From humble beginnings, he is now the proud owner of a couture boutique, some fashion counters in department stores and his own fashion academy.

"A mixture of passion, good business sense and a willingness to take risks has gotten me to where I am today," he says humbly. "Recalling just how tough it was to get the right type of guidance when I started out, I want to help anyone who wishes to make a career out of fashion design."

Now, with this single volume, he can.

Carven Ong's Guide to the Fashion Industry
Carven Ong
MPH Group Publishing
157 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-167-6

Buy from

Monday, 16 December 2013

News: Books, Lawsuits, And Stuff

  • A book on being a 'submissive' wife becomes a hit in Italy and Spain, except with feminists (anybody remember our own Obedient Wives' Club?). A sexist "joke" book published by a Spanish company, meanwhile, was pulled off the shelves.
  • A best-selling Saudi sci-fi book pulled off the shelves in Kuwait and Qatar, due to djinns. As we all know, djinns are bad news, which is perhaps why local publications such as Mastika occasionally warn readers about them. But the big question is: Can sci-fi as a genre exist when imagination is curtailed?
  • Did an "evangelical celebrity machine" force a radio host to retract her claims that a Seattle pastor could be a plagiarist?
  • A bunch of famous authors have condemned the amount of state surveillance as revealed by the world's biggest whistleblower of 2013, and are calling for the creation of a UN bill to protect civil rights for the Internet age. The list of authors petitioning for this bill is formidable. But will anything come out of it?
  • A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit, filed by independent booksellers, that said Amazon and the big six publishers are trying to lock down the bookselling trade via Amazon's proprietary DRM in Kindle. And this little nugget from TIME seems to suggest that Amazon's apparent money-losing strategy with its Kindle e-reader is working.
  • "Long-form, on the Web, is in danger of meaning a lot of words," writes James Bennet in The Atlantic. Time to rethink the terminology for 'long-form' journalism?
  • Guilty pleasures: What's so guilty about them? "...the guilty pleasure seems to me the distillation of all the worst qualities of the middlebrow—the condescension of the highbrow without the expenditure of effort, along with mass culture's pleasure-seeking without the unequivocal enjoyment," writes Jennifer Szalai in The New Yorker. "If you want to listen to Rihanna while reading the latest from Dean Koontz, just go ahead and do it."
  • "My education began in the library, where I read every book I could get my hands on. Before long, I wanted to be--among other things--a writer. I read books about it, and I learned that the chance of making a living writing novels was remote. But I also learned that if I got a job on a newspaper they'd have to pay me every week." Sir Terry Pratchett talks about his first job.
  • Crowdfunded anthologies: what you need to know before jumping in.
  • Hikaru Su- sorry, George Takei, a top 1000 reviewer on Amazon? Oh my.
  • "Call me a defeatist, but honestly I'd be happy if a plurality of American college students could discern even the skeletal plot of anything they were assigned." Rebecca Schuman at Slate wants an end to college essays.
  • "If a story is viral, truth may be taking a beating." So it seems nothing is too good to be true on the Internet - until it is.

    Speaking of viral: Did this blog publisher actually write this awful pitch? Because nobody can possibly be this daft. And multiple exclamation marks? Red flag!
  • Whoa. Is THIS the state of our National Library now? Some of the pictures look a little old, though.
  • Oh, yes ... Groupon's great idea for 'combating' the delivery drone scheme? Catapults. This thing just got ancient. Google, on the other hand, just bought a robot-engineering company. Retail Robot Wars, anyone?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

You Don't Know PR Like He Knows PR

It was said that the Tang Dynasty calligrapher Zhang Xu produced his best work after a few drinks.

I wondered if the author of this book is similarly wired. How else to explain the outlandish ideas for the ads and public-relations campaigns he was involved in?

I mean, using a wild 'Canadian' bear (probably a grizzly) to sell bathroom tissues (and, later, having to track it down when it got loose)?

Trying to get David Copperfield to 'teleport' an SIA jumbo jet from Changi to Heathrow?

Staging a concert inside Sarawak's Mulu Caves?

Re-creating the splendour of ancient Rome at Singapore's Orchard Road - complete with real lions - for a perfume launch?

And it was his PR agency, apparently, that got the Singapore Girl into Madame Tussauds.

Regarded by some as "Asia's Mr Public Relations", Michael De Kretser has been in the PR industry for about four decades. His PR agency, MDK, began in modest settings such as his own condominium and an office space above an Indian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.

After years of gallivanting around the world, setting up his out-of-the-box public-relations campaigns and growing his PR business, he is now the CEO of GO Communications Malaysia and also the chairman of the GO Group, a sprawling PR empire with partner offices in such places as Bangkok, Beijing, Colombo, Manila, Mumbai, Shanghai, Tokyo and Vientiane.

De Kretser's remarkable rise in the competitive world of public relations and some of his (mis)adventures en route to the top can now be found in his book, GO For It!.

While public-relations people can learn (a bit) about damage control and how to mount a PR campaign from it, the book is really about the inspirational story of a successful public-relations practitioner who, from humble beginnings, set out to make it big against all odds.

Between battling health scares, boosting brands, and saving tourism industries, De Kretser somehow finds the time to date one of the Supremes, hobnob with celebrities and the celebrated aboard Malcolm Forbes's luxury yacht, play a game or two of cricket, and much more. With lots of spirit and spirits.

Packed with amazing anecdotes and the sharp wit and candour he's known for, De Kretser's book will not only titillate, amuse, and shock but also inspire and make you believe that all things are possible when you say GO instead of NO.

Royalties from sales of the book have been pledged to charity.

GO For It!
A Roller-Coaster Public Relations Adventure

Michael De Kretser
MPH Group Publishing
157 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-166-9

Buy from

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

News: French Lit Frustrations, Angry Birds, And Durians

"Why don't French books sell abroad?" asks the BBC. "...when it comes to post-war literature, it's a different story. Even voracious readers often struggle to name a single French author they have enjoyed."

A bookseller there had this to say: "The books on offer here are very different from in the UK. French books are precious, intellectual - elitist. And too often bookshops are intimidating. Ordinary people are scared of the whole book culture."

Ooo. In short, les livres sont trop français. Too ... 'French'.


...French writers insist that the sins they are accused of - abstraction, lack of plot and character, a preference for text over story, contempt for the non-literary reader - are a cliche perpetuated by Anglo-Saxons with little knowledge of how things have changed in recent years.

"Personally I am fed up with all the stereotypes," says [French writer Marie] Darieussecq. "We're not intellectual. We're not obsessed with words. We write detective stories. We write suspense. We write romance.

"And it's about time you started noticing."

Pour quoi tant pétulant, madame?

One more stumbling block to Amazon's drone-delivery army: angry raptors. And this guy, who has reportedly pledged to shoot down any drone he sees.

Meanwhile, an "unusual" number of snowy owls are spotted in the US. Hmm hmmm hmmmm.

What else is happening:

  • A different kind of artefact: The "artful accidents" of Google Books includes scans of employees' hands as they flip the pages.
  • Reading can be hazardous: the 'confessions' of a judge for this year's National Book Awards.
  • Readers of The Guardian recommend these self-published works. Are these truly the diamonds among the duds?
  • Linguists find ways to, like, distinguish statements from questions in Valley Girl-talk, for sure. Like, totally.
  • Mixed results for bookselling in Mexico after book prices are fixed. "...the law that was passed had no provisions for enforcing it, and so the situation has become ever more chaotic. Booksellers who follow the law are undercut by others who don't, and the latter aren't penalized — and this is an issue that's particularly bad for smaller or farflung bookstores, which the law was meant to support in the first place."
  • Lingerie in literature: "underwiring" for stories? Probably not for men.
  • Yeah, why do we value gold? "Chemically, it is uninteresting - it barely reacts with any other element," the standfirst goes. But gold is valued partly because of that attribute.
  • Dunia nak kiamat? Sebab orang puteh tulis surat cinta kepada durian. Sorry, not going to translate.
  • The literary feuds of 2013 because why not?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

News: Amazon Drones, Books Of The Year, And Subatomic Sex

It's that time of the year, when everybody compiles a list of best/worst/overlooked/overrated books.

The Guardian's list of 2013's best books is out, kicked off by Tash Aw's Five Star Billionaire. It wasn't even December when they released the list.

Slate's book critics think your 2013 reading list should have included these "overlooked" books. Meanwhile, somebody at Newsweek tries reviewing the best Goodreads books of 2013 without reading them.

So, yes, Amazon plans same-day deliveries using drones. Joyce Carol Oates has some thoughts about that, and TechCrunch sees several obstacles to Amazon's goal of setting up an army of delivery drones.

In response (and for a lark), Waterstones 'introduces' its own army of OWLS (Ornithological Waterstones Landing Service), which is not exactly an original (or serious) idea.


It's a short list, but I was busy for the past few weeks and I was away for the weekend. I might be sharing some photos from that weekend vacation later, because I'm not really deep into book-related stuff at the moment.

But I miiight take a peek inside the Big Bad Wolf's lair (between 6 and 15 December) and see what's inside.