Tuesday, 24 February 2015

My Overseas Union (Coffee) Garden

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 24 February 2015

Last year, when makan kaki Melody pointed out that PJ Section 17's marquee café Butter+Beans was opening a chain in my neck of the woods (now you know where I live), such was my disbelief that I had to see it for myself.

Butter+Beans' new branch at Overseas Union Garden, saving my
fuel money for more coffee

I've been in and out of this steeped-to-the-roots Chinese neighbourhood for years and I never thought Third Wave coffee would arrive here before all my hair turned white.

But Butter+Beans isn't the only Western-style café nearby.

The first to open was Doors Café, an offshoot of Doors Music + Tapas in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The weird murals of caffeinated three-eyed aliens and various doors of different colours lent more quirk to Doors, making it more of a hangout and a "chillax" joint.

I'm confident whatever they serve at Doors won't turn you into ... those

Melody and I returned for a peek after a huge dinner (elsewhere). Since I last visited, they've added lots of items on the menu: pastas, sandwiches, baked eggs... those kinds of things. Unfortunately, the kitchen closes at 6pm, so no dinners.

But the iced chocolate, with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, was still as good — and sweet — as the last time, and the coffee was just right.

Doors' all-day breakfast is particularly filling: puréed sweet potato (I think), pan-seared Russet potatoes with rosemary, two slices of toasted baguette, a pork sausage, two strips of bacon and some salad and sautéed mushrooms (no baked beans).

Several bar seats at the window now had headphones plugged into what look like prototype iPods, offering music in lieu of the food and beverages, but there's no indication of which unit plays what.

I picked one and switched it on according to the instructions and my ears were filled with Mandarin-language café music. In spite of the caffeine, I found myself getting sleepy.

It's enough to make me want to freelance and set up shop here.

The interior of Midsummer Night Café at Jalan Awan Hijau (same row as MyBurgerLab OUG) looks more like a schoolroom, with its desks and chairs of recycled and smoothed cream-hued wood. Seemed apt, considering the boss, Jon, was formerly a lecturer at a college. The chairs' thick seats are hollow, to house a magazine or book.

The interior of Midsummer Night Café

From what Jon said, what he used to teach has little to do with the décor. One wall was decorated with miniature versions of movie posters, most of which were of Hong Kong films. The selection is changed every couple of months.

Coasters, to prevent condensation from cold drinks staining the wood, are actually laminated screencaps from HK films, complete with lines from the depicted characters.

"Why tell people? It's fine as long as you're happy," goes Chow Yun-fat in An Autumn's Tale.

From its Facebook page, interior and overall feel, I thought this was more of a hangout for a Sinophone crowd.

When Jon started Midsummer Night, he was on the brink of quitting his day job and could, therefore, only open in the evenings on weekdays, hence the name. He heard the calling to do something for himself — and maybe other people — after teaching for years.

The menu features a small selection of beverages and several kinds of cake. Specials are written on a board near the counter. One item is called "Dream": frozen coffee cubes served with a pitcher of milk and gula melaka syrup.

The fine coffee and yummy iced chocolate at Doors Café (left); coasting
the afternoon away at Midsummer Night Café with Leslie Cheung and
some strong iced coffee

Another distinct feature was the lack of a voice like Pixie Lott's from the sound system, breathing lyrics about life, love and the universe. What patrons got — the day I was there, at least — was ambient sounds. Right now, it's rain with a bit of thunder, which does little to calm my nerves, jangled by my cold-brewed Colombian coffee with milk.

Four more glasses of lemon-flavoured water later, I feel much better but a bit out of place without a book or homework to occupy myself with. Maybe next time....

"Stop it," Melody chides, after I poke the bear-shaped bean bag (which I named Gilbert) for the umpteenth time while making what I thought were pitch-perfect bear grunts.

Don't feed the bear ... or poke him too much

Some days I prefer simple pleasures.

Then there's Butter+Beans' pastry selection.

We are back here again, weeks after our first couple of visits. Melody, a free-spirited freelancer who often works out of cafés — preferably with free wi-fi and conveniently placed power points — is smitten with her latest "office."

They even brought Food Foundry's famous mille feuilles here, on top of the salmon quiche, fig tart, the kaya and coconut danish (my favourite) and a selection of boulangerie loaves.

Finally, I thought, bona fide treats from a Western bakery and espresso-based coffee, all within walking distance.

So many choices, only one stomach. Oh, the agony.

For a while, the breads disappeared. "They didn't sell well," said the manager on duty. "So we stopped stocking them." But she also told me that the central bakery had shifted to bigger premises somewhere in Kuchai Lama, and we could place an order if we were hankering for a baguette.

Why here, of all places?

Yong, one of the partners who brought Butter+Beans to this part of KL, felt it was time for the Third Wave in coffee to arrive in this neighbourhood (ditto, Yong). "We didn't know about Doors when we picked this spot," he said.

Speaking to Melody, Ken, the other partner, divulged a need to do something more fulfilling than his high-flying job in the financial sector. He used the term "humanist", which delighted Melody no end.

And few things are more humanistic than caffeinating, feeding and bringing people together under one roof — preferably with free wi-fi and music.

Doors Café KL
No 51, Jalan Hujan,
Overseas Union Garden,
58200 Kuala Lumpur


Mon–Wed, Sun: 10am–10pm
Fri–Sat: 10am–12am

Closed on Thursdays

+603 7972 2779


Facebook page

Midsummer Night Café
36A, Jalan Awan Hijau,
Overseas Union Garden,
58200 Kuala Lumpur

Tue–Fri: 7pm–12am
Sat–Sun: 3pm–12am

Closed on Mondays

+603 7971 2345

Facebook page

Butter+Beans @ OUG
No 53, Jalan Hujan Rahmat 3
Taman Overseas Union
58200 Kuala Lumpur

Now the site of Chaplang Kafe

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Some Feathers In My (Mushroom) Cap

At every Western cuisine outfit I patronise, mushroom soup is often a go-to thing, especially if it's my first time there and if it's available.

So it's only a matter of time before I made my own Western-style mushroom soup.

Main ingredients for mushroom soup

What kept me back was my paranoia of mushrooms. These look dirty - how do you clean them? Do you even need to? Should I remove the stems? These look like a lot - should I use them all? What if the factory accidentally slipped in a poisonous one?

I know, silly me. But to me, these were valid concerns.

While mulling a method to help me shop for groceries better (like recipe cards), I decided to do a mental one for the day I tackle my favourite appetiser. Once I do mushrooms, I might end up putting it into every other thing I cook: Stir-fries, pasta sauces, sandwiches, curries...

Earlier, the mushrooms filled about half the pot

Right, the ingredients. Brown button mushrooms (200g), some Portobello mushrooms, shallots, garlic, mixed herbs and 500ml of pre-packed liquid vegetable stock. This recipe is loosely based on this one.

Prepping the mushrooms was a bit tricky. Several recipes I referred to don't mention washing the 'shrooms first, but one said to remove the stems from Portobellos (which can be woody and tough, I reckon). So I just showered them with water. Rubbing a brown mushroom cap caused the brown to come off, so I stopped.

ROILING HELLBROTH; note the clean stovetops and the saved
mushrooms, chopped (should've saved more)

When the pile of sliced mushrooms got uncomfortably big, I saved the last three Portobello for later. I used these instead of shiitake for the extra flavour and meatiness, but as I learnt later, it's fine for them all to go into the pot - after the aromatics (chopped shallots and garlic) were tossed in and sautéed with a little oil.

Watching Jamie Oliver cook mushrooms, I learnt that the fungi are like sponges that release their own water into the pot, while absorbing other flavours you throw in. And these 'shrooms release a lot of water. As I stirred, the huge pile shrank by at least half, while a puddle of liquid slowly pooled at the bottom of the pot.

I wasn't sure if I should save it all, so I took the pot off the heat and poured put most of it in a bowl; the rest went into the sink, which, in hindsight, was not a good idea.

Bubbly blended fungal ambrosia, peppered with black pepper

Then the pot went back onto the flames. Several minutes is all is needed, then the veggie stock went in. As it started to boil, I tasted the mushroom water.

Mm-mmm, good.

So back into the pot it went, along with a bit of salt, pepper and mixed herbs. And- uh oh, maybe 500ml of vegetable stock was a bit too much. But getting some of it to boil away would take too long. So I killed the heat and waited for it to cool before blending it up.

Oh yes, save a bit of mushroom to chop up for texture.

Almost like how they do it in restaurants

I made a similar mistake with the "ancient carrot" soup: to get as much soup out of the receptacle, I used water, which went back into the pot for a final boil and a swirl of milk - no cream on hand, and I thought with extra mushrooms, why bother?

Yes, the soup was a bit salty on top of being slightly watery - no cream. Perhaps a future version would also benefit from it, plus more mushrooms and less water.

But it is still good, and it was a huge bowl. But at RM18++ for all those mushrooms and almost RM10 for the veggie stock, the cost of raw ingredients is a bit steep.

Still, I've made something with mushrooms. I can see myself doing this again.

The remaining Portobellos went into a (yummy) mushroom pasta dish

As for the remaining Portobellos, they ended up in a yummy home-made mushroom pasta dish the next day. They're not cheap, okay?

...Yes, this is starting to look like a cooking blog. Maybe it's because I find cooking therapeutic - at the moment. Glad the title still applies, though. (Books? No. Maybe. Later. Kitchen? Yes.)

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Book Marks: Watchdog, Books On Fire, And Apa Lagi Mau?

So this online translation service got the attention of Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware and they don't like it. The quality of some sample translations as well as the language in the replies Strauss received to her queries ("...your 'watchdog' is the more stupid thing I have ever seen in my life. Go away you and your dog.") should've been a huge red flag.

Start-up or not, when you launch a translation agency, your people should already be sufficiently competent in the original language (Spanish, from the looks of it) and the language to be translated into. People expect a certain degree of quality in your work almost as soon as you open up shop. The market will not allow you to grow into your role with time.

But going after Strauss because she had reservations about their translation service? Talk about barking up the wrong tree.

"Apa lagi yang JAWI mau?" asks Azrul Mohd Khalib, after hearing that the Federal Territories religious department is seeking an appeal against a court ruling that says its arrest of a bookstore manager was unlawful.

A brief recap: Borders bookstore manager Nik Raina was detained by religious officials for selling the Malay-language edition of Irshad Manji's Allah, Liberty and Love - which was not banned (I think) until several weeks later.

But it seems that ban was eventually set aside after the Court of Appeal ruled that "a ban on the Bahasa Malaysia translation was illogical" since the English version was being sold. Also, she is not the owner of the store and has no control over what goes on the shelves. Borders does, but JAWI can't charge it under syariah law.

It's not just Azrul; many here are probably wondering why as well. "After all," he writes, "not only is the right to be protected from retrospective criminal law a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 7 of the Federal Constitution, it is also a basic understanding of justice that you cannot be charged for an offence that was not yet deemed an offence at that point of time."

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ancient Carrot Soup

It never occurred to me to revisit my recipe for carrot and potato soup until I spotted something at the Cold Storage in the "new" Jaya Shopping Centre.

Purple carrots.

Lead "actors": potatoes and purple carrots

Oh, how novel, you might say. But I remember reading from somewhere that carrots come in several colours, like corn and rice, and was apparently what the ancients used to eat. And it seems that the lobak ori were mostly purple ones, and the modern orange carrots are mutants, widely cultivated for economic reasons.

The colour of purple carrots indicates its anthocyanin content. Reputed to be a powerful antioxidant, anthocyanins are also found in a variety of food, such as purple corn, blackberries, eggplant peel, Concord grapes, black rice and black glutinous rice. However, the actual contributions of food-based anthocyanins to one's health haven't been concretely substantiated.

Veggies getting tossed with the aromatics before the main event

But, mmm, purple carrots. And a purple carrot soup makes an interesting talking point, even if the nutritional value is hyped up.

Three small potatoes, three small purple carrots (not expensive), shallots, garlic, mixed herbs and the usual seasoning, plus a little pre-packed vegetable stock (250ml; they ran out of bigger packages).

First, the sautéing of the aromatics. After which, the vegetables - peeled and diced - were added.

When the veggies were ready, I poured in the vegetable stock plus some water and brought the whole thing to a boil. After which, it simmered for about 10 or 15 minutes, during which I added black pepper, a bit of salt and the mixed herbs.

ROILING HELLBROTH (and yes, the stovetops need cleaning - done that)

Getting it to cool before the blending took longer. What you get is something that resembles black glutinous rice dessert, albeit a few shades lighter, due to the potatoes. The spuds also provide the starch to thicken it, so no need for cream, yogurt and the like.

The blended stuff goes back into the pot and heated up till it bubbles. Don't let it bubble for long; as soon as you see a few of those pop, stir and stir for a bit and take it off the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

The soup, like Zhang Ziyi says in her Visa commercial, was a bit "too sahltee." I think the heat must've dulled the tastebuds; the saltiness was more evident when the soup cooled. Should I have tasted the stock first to check? Maybe.

I think the soup also needed more carrot, less potato, and a shorter cooking time. A few bits of raw purple carrot on top - plus some croutons or toasted baguette slices - wouldn't have been out of place, either.

Blended and brought to a boil: Carrot Soup of the Ancients

So yes, ancient purple carrots. I think they should be on supermarket shelves - and salad bowls - everywhere.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Currying Flavours With Egg And Bacon

I am fond of curries, even those that don't necessarily qualify as such by Malaysian standards.

Some of my favourite dishes are the curry rices some tai chow restaurants prepare, which are more like the Japanese curry rice that I'm also fond of. But sadly, very few places that sell this dish are nearby; the nearest one closed shop weeks ago.

Curry pasta sounds like a poor choice in comparison.

It's a bit more involved than my sunshine pasta, in that I use more herbs and spices and add some bacon and a poached egg for good measure. Non-spaghetti-type pastas like fusilli, shells and penne work better with this, but I'm not laying down laws here. Use whatever you like.

Curry sauce fusilli with bacon and poached egg; the bit of yolk is what
remained of a botched poach - let's not speak of it again

For better results, I'd mix a little grated ginger, grated garlic and grated shallots with the curry powder, a bit of salt and water while the pasta cooks (in salted water) - but you can do without the wet spices in a hurry, like when you're so hungry it feels like you're about to give birth to a chestburster.

Then again, there's the bacon and poached egg. You fry the former in oil (or without, and let the fat render for use later, though this is pointless if you're not using a whole lot of bacon) and put it on a dish with a paper towel to catch the excess grease. I could write a whole post on the latter, which I won't because HUNGRY, yo.

Just poach the egg, fish it out of the water and put it on another dish lined with a paper towel to soak up the excess water. If the poached egg still has some water in the pockets of cooked white, it'll seep into the pasta and dilute the curry.

Once the bacon's done, you use the fat left behind to fry up the curry paste. I didn't bother with the oil-separating thingy, so I waited until the paste is fragrant before I tipped the pasta in.

Few things approach the sanctity of liquid ambrosia than the
fluid yolk of a poached egg

Stir to coat, adding a little water if necessary. Add a tablespoon or two of yogurt to cream up the sauce, mix well and plate. Push the pasta up into a pile or make a nest of sorts where the poached egg goes, then sprinkle with bacon bits and serve.

...This happened late last year. But what the heck.