Friday, 30 May 2014

Musings Of A "Zebra Mom"

"Zebra" is a medical term for a surprising or unexpected diagnosis. In medical school, physicians are taught to think of a horse, not a zebra when they "hear a gallop and hoofbeats". The analogy means that the simplest and most straightforward explanation is often the answer.

Which is perhaps why, during a routine check-up for a bad bout of flu, Patsy Kam and maybe her doctor were caught off-guard when the latter found something else entirely, which marked her a "zebra".

Galloping into bookstores nationwide: I Am a Zebra! by Patsy Kam

Kam learnt that she has paraganglioma, a rare condition. Estimates say that one out of 300,000 people in the general population are diagnosed with it every year. Though not debilitating in itself, the condition can lead to something worse if left untreated.

Overnight, her world changed, as she prepared for a future fraught with doctors, medical exams and surgeries, while trying to balance her roles as a journalist and mother of three.

This is the story of a woman who discovers her inner strength and resolve as she battles this disease while muddling her way through motherhood. Plenty of drama here as Kam braves painful medical procedures and the side effects of her treatments - on top of the antics of her three sons, who keep proving to be a handful and a half (each) as they grew up.

And hers wasn't a smooth transition to being a mother.

"For starters, I was not one of those women who glowed and beamed as their stomachs grew progressively larger," Kam writes. "Some of them claim they never suffered a day of morning sickness in their lives, and giving birth was as easy as 'pushing out an egg'."

But perhaps it was motherhood that lent her much of the strength she needed to battle her condition.

By sharing her experiences as a patient in this book as well as stories of some people like her (a handy glossary and resource section is provided at the end of the book), Kam hopes more people will learn about the disease and its effects, and spur more research towards finding a cure.

"When I first discovered my medical tragedy, my world came crashing down. There seemed no respite from the surgeries and the drama that unfolded, and there were many, many times when I wanted to call it quits," she says. "But it’s not all bad as I’ve since learnt how to cope with paraganglioma."

"Hopefully, someone, somewhere, will glean something from my experience," she adds, "and be aware of this rare disease and be able to do something about the tumours that come with it before it’s too late."

Patsy Kam is a mother of three and a journalist with Malaysia’s leading English daily The Star. Follow her further adventures beyond this book at her blog Me and My Lumps.

I Am a Zebra!
Making Sense of a Rare Disorder

Patsy Kam
MPH Group Publishing
160 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-200-0

Buy from

Friday, 16 May 2014

Coming This Way Soon

I felt it was appropriate to release this sneak peek on Teacher's Day. Guess which teacher wrote this?

Yes, the adventures of the "teacher in the interior" continues.

And also, this:

This one you have to guess (or Google) - not hard, really.

I'll have more to say when both come off the presses. Stay tuned.

And good weekend.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Masterclass In Session: Sapna Anand's New Indian Kitchen

What struck me most about this publication were the photos in the first laid-out drafts. A cookbook is supposed to be a visual buffet, and like real ones, it has to be really good.

Indian cuisine, that heady melange of flavours and colours, owes part of its unique character to the people who dropped by the lush, exotic subcontinent over the centuries, including the Portuguese, the British and the Moghuls.

Born and raised in Goa, cooking instructor Sapna Anand ended up going places, much like the traders and colonists that left their mark on her homeland. Her travels and experiences changed the way she saw and cooked the food she grew up with and encountered on her journeys.

She eventually came to Malaysia, where she currently teaches Indian cooking and French pastry at Hellen Fong's At 19 Culinary Studio. She also maintains the My Test Kitchen Facebook page and blog, and caters for niche dinners with her own kind of modern Indian cuisine.

Not bad for someone who says she wasn't much of a cook when she was younger. "In fact, when I got married, I still wasn't much of a cook," she says. "But I had always liked cooking for fun. As a kid, I tried making roti (Indian wheat bread) and French fries. I guess my penchant for food from the East and the West was there from young."

Now, she's sharing that penchant for food through a cookbook.

Sapna's New Indian Kitchen, part of the MPH Masterclass Kitchen series, features a variety of dishes that are primarily from the Indian regions of Kerala, Goa, and northern India. Each recipe is a milestone in her life's journey, vividly coloured and flavoured by the dishes, sweets and snacks made by family, friends, and neighbours.

The recipes are divided into four categories: Brunch & Bites, Meals Best Shared with Family & Friends, Quick & Easy Meals, and Something Sweet, to help you decide what to cook and serve for which occasion. " I have used my education in French pastry and familiarity with Western cooking to add an interesting twist to the traditional recipes."

Alongside such traditional and familiar fare as chicken biryani, raita and kebabs are edamame upma, achari chicken tart and keema lasagna, among others – examples of how she uses the cooking techniques she picked up to breathe new life into the time-tested flavours of her homeland.

There's also a section that describes the basic ingredients used in the recipes and how to prepare some of them (like garam masala and paneer). A section on spices, which she presents with the help of the Spice Board of the Government of Kerala, India, has loads of information.

Above all else, this cookbook is more of a personal project for Sapna, who, with Santa Barbara-based photographer Chris Owen, did much of the photography and food styling.

"People like to say, 'If you do not try, you'll never know.' How true it is, especially
with cooking," she says, "Here, in this book, are the fruits of my experimentations – recipes for you, made and created with love, from my kitchen to yours."

New Indian Kitchen
Sapna Anand
MPH Group Publishing
200 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-203-1

Buy from

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Popular-The Star Reader's Choice Awards 2014

The Popular-The Star Reader's Choice Awards is upon us again. I'm more excited about this year's picks because I'm more familiar with some of the titles in the running. And it's a pretty tough line-up.

I reviewed two of the titles nominated under Fiction: Golda Mowe's Iban Dream and Tash Aw's Five Star Billionaire. The former is a magical and lyrical tale (though the characters sound like they're performing on stage) about an orphaned Iban boy who would, under the guidance of powerful spirits, become an accomplished headhunter, warrior and longhouse chief.

Boey Cheeming's When I Was A Kid 2 (left) and Golda Mowe's Iban Dream

In comparison, Aw's story of five Malaysian Chinese who went to 21st-century Shanghai to make their fortunes had a more hectic pace and a grittier feel, but okay overall.

Tash Aw at Silverfish Bookscover of ‘Five Star Billionaire’
Five Star Billionaire is by Tash Aw (left), who met fans, read some
passages from the book and fielded questions during a meet-up at
Silverfish Books in Bangsar on 23 February 2013

Though I haven't read Barbara Ismail's Princess Play yet, I did read Shadow Play, and while the portrayals of the characters and backdrops were somewhat realistic, the pace was a too languid for me. I'm expecting similar stuff from Princess Play.

I did some work for two books nominated under non-fiction: A Backpack And A Bit Of Luck (the newer edition) by Zhang Su Li, and Hafsah Md Ali's If Only Airports Could Talk.

A Backpack and a Bit of Luck by Zhang Su Li (left) and If Only Airports
Could Talk
by Hafsah Md Ali

I considered the latter a dark horse; penned by a former MAS ground crew member, it was something that I envisioned an older Yvonne Lee (The Sky is Crazy, Madness Aboard!) would write. Zhang, meanwhile, needs no introduction. We were asked to re-package the book, which was first published by Marshall-Cavendish. I quite liked the stories inside, despite the faint shades of purple.

And, of course, there's Boey's second book, When I Was A Kid 2, which I reviewed (months after his first) and won't say anymore about. Both, after all, are ... popular, from what I'd heard.

If you're interested, vote now. For your favourites, not mine. I'm hoping for different outcomes this time (no politicians or sports personalities, please), but I'm not holding my breath.

(I also helped proof one of the nominated books not mentioned here - and I'm not telling.)

03/08/2014   Results are in, though a wee bit disappointed that my favourite books didn't grab the top spots. But top three's quite decent.

Karpal Singh: Tiger Of Jelutong   Tim Donoghue
When I Was A Kid 2   Cheeming Boey
A Backpack And A Bit Of Luck   Zhang Su Li

New Beginnings   Chan Ling Yap
More Hotel Tales   Hanley Chew
The Mouse Deer Kingdom   Chiew-siah Tei

Congratulations to all those who were nominated; you're all winners as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Masterclass In Session: Fat Bites With The Fat Spoon Girls

Many Klang Valley urbanites would be familiar with Fat Spoon, a rustic little eatery in Damansara Utama owned and run by sisters Melissa and Michelle Pong. The establishment, with its repertoire of Nyonya-inspired delights that incorporate family tradition and Gen-Y ingenuity, has gained a following since opening around the middle of 2010.

And now, they're coming up with a cookbook - are you not excited?

I can't remember when my first visit to Fat Spoon was, but I do remember the décor that made the relatively small space cosy and homey.

Small touches like the wooden food cabinet and the trays of canned drinks that were sometimes placed at the bottom reminded me of Chinese New Years at the ancestral home in Taiping. Small old read-with-me hardbacks were recycled into their menus. A larger chalkboard menu was hung on a wall. A fat wooden spoon was the handle to the front door.

Part of the interior of Fat Spoon Café, 06 May 2014 or, as they'd say, "yesterday"

Ah yes, the food. It was the first time I had ulam fried rice, and their Fat Hot Chocolate was rich, warm and creamy. And whether you're out of a traffic jam after work, or back from the airport, college, a boring meeting or the hospital, you'd want to come home to a bowl of their Spicy Beef Macaroni (soup).

But I haven't been back for a while. So I returned yesterday evening. Oh, quite a bit has changed. The chalkboard was replaced with a mirror, and the old menus were replaced with ones that looked more like menus. I guess some change was inevitable. But the food was still good.

New dish: ulam angel hair pasta and the pumpkin fritters (left) and the
durian crème brûlée; recipes for the fritters and dessert are in the book

Still, I was surprised to know that the Fat Spoon girls were coming up with a cookbook. Months in the making, it has blossomed into the visual feast that I knew it would be. Just about every facet of the book said "Fat Spoon".

The Fat Spoon Cookbook is a wonderful collection of recipes that offer a glimpse into the kitchen at Fat Spoon and the minds behind such creations as ulam fried rice, pumpkin fritters and cempedak spring rolls with vanilla ice cream.

It is a reflection of their personality and passion for good food, nurtured by a familial love of the good stuff and their adventures in food.

Among the old-school recipes and favourites from their family’s kitchen, revitalised by a youthful zest for new flavours and cooking techniques, are some original creations that showcase the sisters’ inventiveness and flair for marrying old and new.

But don't just take my word for it.

"Their innovative creations never disappoint — they’re always so surprising and comforting," gushes Joyce Wong, aka KinkyBlueFairy, in the foreword. "I always feel the love that goes into their food, which is probably why I crave it when I travel overseas for long periods."

After taking you through the basics: making chicken stock, fried shallots/garlic, batter for frying, gula melaka syrup and the like, Michelle and Melissa take you through the making of things like avocado fritters with kaffir lime mayo, beef and basil popiah wraps, Asian salmon tartare with poppadom chips, teapot mushroom soup with rice and durian crème brûlée.

Cockle non-fans will be tempted to try out their cockle salad, and the duck and goji burger sounds like something that Fat Spoon would make. Fans will recognise at least two items in the book: the pumpkin fritters and the signature Fat Spoon noodles. The pictures, by photgrapher Audrey Lim, are gorgeous and manage to capture the essence of what Fat Spoon is and what can come out of it.

Though merely a small sampling of what their eatery has to offer, the book manages to convey a small slice of that rustic yet homey atmosphere from the sisters' childhood that would, they hope, encourage you to re-live yours by trying out the recipes within – and maybe come up with your own.

"We hope this book will inspire you to go crazy in your kitchen," says the girls in the preface. "Take some ideas from our recipes and go wild with them. What if your culinary creations fail? Remember how that four-year-old kid who fell from the swing picked himself up and ran into the monkey bar? It’s a playground, go nuts!"

The Fat Spoon Cookbook
Melissa and Michelle Pong
MPH Group Publishing
155 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-195-9

Buy from

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Epicurean Editor Cooks Some Chook

Up to last week, my chefly ventures never went beyond vegetables, carbs and processed protein.

Then a friend challenged me to cook chicken. Raw chunks of thigh, still on the bone. Inspired, in part, by a picture of spicy chicken wings on a Facebook page. She even bought the raw meat, just in case I tried to squirm out of it (photos here aren't mine, by the way).

Though intrigued by the prospect of trying out turmeric chicken, I felt it was too ambitious, and where was I going to find gloves? So I settled for a simple rub: salt, pepper, olive oil and a sprinkling of McCormick's mixed herbs (marjoram, rosemary, sage, thyme, savory). I let the whole lot sit for up to half an hour before putting it in the oven.

While that sizzled away, I prepared the other half of the meal.

Butternut squash, zucchini, red and yellow bell pepper, carrot and potatoes, all chopped up for roasting. I seasoned it with the same stuff I used for the chicken (with less salt and pepper). There was no room for brinjals by the time I was done with the other veggies. After that, crushed cloves of garlic went in and a few tosses later, all was ready.

The chicken cooked for about 45 minutes on 180 degrees C before I turned off the oven and took it out. It was delicious, and the taste even had the hint of KFC. If that wasn't enough, I splashed water on the pan, scraped what I could of the bits that clung onto the bottom, and mixed it all into a sauce of sorts.

... Yep, a bit too much salt. But what manner of alchemy merged the fat and juices that oozed out of the chicken with the oil and seasonings and turned it into something ... near-divine? I took spoonfuls of the sauce (for lack of a better word) with each bite of meat, and drizzled some over the roasted vegetables, which also turned out fine.

So, yes, I managed to cook raw meat. And the results were better than expected.

The friend loved it too. She used the word "orgasmic" at one point - betraying, perhaps, her penchant for drama. But it was relatively cheap and we didn't have to wait in line or pay any sales and services tax. And we knew what went inside.

And it was easy.

From that point on, a wide horizon of shifting colours stretched before me. Right now, it's tinged with the stark yellow hues of turmeric.

Monday, 5 May 2014

News: Book Ban, Bands, Bandwagons, And Bob Hoskins

Lemme tell you why a certain book was banned:

...the [Home Ministry] said the novel "Perempuan Nan Bercinta" by prolific author Faisal Tehrani was banned under Section 7(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and the order was gazetted on April 9, 2014.

“It is stressed that the decision was made to stop an attempt to inject Shiah propaganda through creative works which might be targeted towards the academics and youths," said the statement.

By allegedly trying to confuse the Sunni Muslims in the country, the ministry was afraid that the book would affect the "safety and social aspects" of Muslims nationwide.

Now, books being banned here is nothing new. Books being banned months after publication isn't new, either. What's striking about this ban is that...

The novel was published by the Malaysian Institute of Translation and Books (ITBM), a limited company wholly owned by the [F]inance [M]inistry and managed by the [E]ducation [M]inistry.

It was printed by state-owned printer Percetakan Nasional Malaysia Berhad (PNMB).

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had launched the book in 2012.

Considering the government's stand on Shiism and religion in general, was there no-one in these institutions who could have pointed out the so-called issues with the novel before it went to print?

Note the launch date: 2012. The book could've been released earlier than that, and in the two years since then, nothing happened. One would think that something that threatens national security would be given more priority.

But I have to wonder at the author's response to the ban:

"I have to say that I am proud that my book is now in the league of books by George Orwell, John Milton and Voltaire," he said, referring to famous Western philosophers whose writings were once banned in their countries.

...Faisal, a Fellow at the Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, revealed that this was the first "serious novel" to be banned in the country since the British banned Putera Gunung Tahan by Pak Sako before Independence.


Wha... Penguin Books to publish book on "mysteries" surrounding MH370?

The book, entitled Crashed: What the World’s Most Mysterious Airplane Disasters Teach Us About Design, Technology, and Human Performance, is being penned by aviation writer Christine Negroni. Associate editor Emily Murdock Baker negotiated the deal with Anna Sproul-Latimer of the Ross Yoon Agency; Baker secured world rights. No release date has been announced.

Here's what a commenter thinks about the idea.

While some might be able to argue the educational value of this book -- namely, the people involved in its production -- most will probably see this as an exploitation of a tragedy. Many people have their theories about what happened to the flight (as do I,) but the bottom line is this: almost 240 people are missing, and their families don't know what happened to them.

Here's one way to get people to go to libraries: a library-themed scavenger hunt, courtesy of Coldplay, to:

...reveal the lyrics of the nine songs featured on their forthcoming CD, “Ghost Stories.” The seven-time Grammy Award-winning band left sheets containing the lyrics, handwritten by lead vocalist Chris Martin, in libraries all over the world.

Clues to the location of these lyrics were shared by Martin through the band's official Twitter account.

I'm most familiar with late Bob Hoskins's role as Eddie Valiant, the human gumshoe in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. What I (and many others, I believe) didn't know was that he also starred in a BBC TV series that helped adults learn to read.

each episode of the 1976 BBC series On the Move featured a running storyline in which the late Bob Hoskins appeared as Alf Hunt, a furniture removal man who had difficulty reading and writing.

...It was Alf's human drama - and, specifically, Hoskins's captivating performance - that drew them in. A national campaign to tackle illiteracy was boosted by the series.

George Auckland, who used to be in charge of BBC's adult education programming, said that after each episode of On The Move, "there would be queues around the block" at adult literacy centres - a strong argument that he claims makes Hoskins "the best educator Britain has ever produced".

Gee whiz, Eddie. Miss you even more now.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Too-Much-Coffee Editor

It's not often that I turn the red pen towards non-manuscripts, but I felt the need to in this case.

Look, Farm Fresh has a new product: ready-to-drink caffè latte.

The same people who brought us such delights as Nubian Goat's Milk (with the messy, user-unfriendly web site) released this product, which I found at the Cold Storage in the newly opened Jaya Shopping Centre at Section 14, Petaling Jaya.

I bought a bottle. I am attracted by new things, especially new coffee things.

The folks at Ladang Anglo Nubian seem very excited about this product, so much so that they felt the need to state that, yes, this is Caffè Latte.

"With real coffee".

And it contains caffeine! Like, you know ... coffee! Not just any coffee, but ... double espresso! Like it says (again) on the graphic of the coffee cup. That's why got "Extra KICK!"

The expiry date should go somewhere else where it won't mar the aesthetics of the coffee-cup drawing.

So, don't play-play! Farm Fresh "Double Espresso Double" Caffè Latte with "Extra KICK" will kick your eyes open big-big!

With "Eyes Wide Open", I see that they don't use "preservative" (which one?) and "stabilizer" (again, which one? And is that US spelling? Likely Microsoft Word).

"700 grm"? Thought millilitre ("ml" or "mL") is generally used in this part of the world.

Now, the back. Again, Farm Fresh reminds us that this is Caffè Latte. "With real coffee". And it contains caffeine! Like, you know ... coffee! Because they're so, like, excited! Also sounds as though they've been stealing sips of their own product.

Coffee has caffeine by default; only tell people when it's decaf.

Shouldn't it be "Ingredients", since there's three of them? Which includes "100% Fresh Cow's Milk" (which you state is "100% Genuine")?

And I'm sure the Celsius should be in uppercase.

They should break the line after "Petaling", perhaps. And if you only have one address (Malaysian), there's no need to emphasise that it's a Malaysian number.

Overall, it's a good idea. But the coffee tastes somewhat medicinal, complex. There's coffee in there, along with other flavours with a hint of ... essence of chicken, for instance. And I barely felt the 'kick' - the downside of having a years-old coffee habit that makes you, well, kind of numb towards anything weaker than a triple espresso.

Great concept, not-too-great product. I'm not sure if all that info was placed there to conform to some industry template, but it could've been done better.

Back to the drawing board, you guys. And this time, with "Eyes Wide Open", please?

I buy the fresh stuff (100% Genuine Fresh!) from you and this variant looks good on the shopping list.

PS: Just learnt that the term is spelled caffè latte (Italian for "milk coffee"). Stands to reason, since modern coffee culture is mainly Italian. So all of us who called it café latte all this time were mixing French and Italian.

10/01/2016  Quite late, but it seems the Farm Fresh people have addressed most of the issues I had.

I think it's because the fixes were done long before and that the first batch of products with the problem labels have sold out.