Thursday, 24 July 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.

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

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

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Saturday, 19 July 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, 10 July 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."

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.

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

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Wednesday, 9 July 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... ♫

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.

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


Tue-Thu, Sun: 4pm-11pm
Fri-Sat: 4pm-12am

Closed on Mondays

Twitter | Facebook page | BFM89.9 Interview

Monday, 7 July 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 and whimsical tales and essays, which capture the essence of being Malaysian, 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.

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

Still Honking
More Scenes from Malaysian Life

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

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Friday, 4 July 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.

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 his blog or the book's Facebook page.

01/09/2014  Listen to the podcast of Hafiz's interview on BFM89.9 about the book.

Life Through My Eyes 2
From Kampung Kenang to Kasoa

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

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