Friday, 28 August 2015

Separation Anxiety

So, an "information blitz" has begun, days (presumably) before 1 September, when many of us are supposed to separate our trash before chucking it out.

I'm all for this. For too long we've been ignoring the fact that, for the convenience of throwing everything out the door in one bag, we've been inconveniencing the folks who have to sort out the mess at wherever our garbage ends up.

And few things feel as empowering - or as hipsterish - as knowing what a difference we make by sorting out our own trash.

I just have a few questions:

  • Should we wash the recyclables before throwing them out? Imagine all the cleaning that has to be done for those who live out of styrofoam packs, plus the scrubbing down of plastic bags for your kopi C peng, pickled green chillies and whatnot.
  • And have any of you tried washing a bottle used for storing Scott's Emulsion? Your kitchen will smell like fish, and that's putting it mildly. I'm speaking from experience.
  • What happens to oil-soaked or sambal-stained cardboard pizza boxes and wrapping paper? Can these still be recycled after waiting for two weeks in the trash before pickup? Can't imagine what would've had a go at the cardboard before the sanitation staff after all that time.
  • What about items with mixed components, like glass bottles for supplements? The caps are plastic - should these be removed and disposed of separately? Same goes for milk and fruit juice cartons.
  • Leather products: shoes, wallets, belts, Moleskine covers ... where do these go? And what about stone, bricks and heavy ceramics such as old porcelain thrones?
  • Shredded CD-ROMs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, credit cards, ATM cards, SIM cards ... how? Do we lump these together with plastics or...?
  • Ah, yes ... used tissues. As someone with allergic rhinitis, on some days I churn out a lot of this regularly. My educated guess would put this under "Others", a.k.a. (Possibly) Biohazardous Waste, perhaps? But I guess they could be recyclable if the compunds used to treat the paper are harsh enough...

Also, there had better be a more robust collection and recycling mechanism for old electronics: smartphones, old appliances, discarded computer peripherals and components and so on coming soon. We should also be thinking of wiping that old hard drive, flash disk or SD card before disposal...

...alright, most of the questions above have been answered by this online presentation (which I learnt about before I could post this) by the Ministry of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government (whose minister is not among Malaysia's favourite people at the moment, but that doesn't make waste separation a bad idea).

I just had to get it out of my system.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Book Marks: A Little Shorter And Less Frequently

Yes, it's been a while since I've does lists like this, but I wanted to be even more selective of what to highlight. Plus, I've been busy sorting out my life, with little progress. Right now, I might be dealing with insomnia.

GB Gerakbudaya has just announced the release of a collection of essays on what is it like to be young and Malay in Malaysia: "Edited by Ooi Kee Beng and Wan Hamidi Hamid, the collection features nine young writers — Haris Zuan, Zairil Khir Johari, Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud, Altaf Deviyati, Izmil Amri, Syukri Shairi, Raja Ahmad Iskandar, Edry Faizal Eddy Yusof and Wan Hamidi himself — who share their experiences about growing up in Malaysia."

Borders bookstore manager Nik Raina Nik Aziz's legal nightmare is finally over as the Federal Court dismisses JAWI's latest prosecution bid against her.

This case should never have stretched on for this long. Employees of a bookstore chain cannot be held solely responsible for whatever the company sells, and Nik Raina did nothing more than to earn a living. Can a Muslim employee be charged for selling beer at a 7-Eleven?

One hopes that this is truly the end of this case.

Some people aren't happy with Kate Breslin's romance novel For Such a Time. "Re-centring the story of the prisoners of Theresienstadt on a tale of Christian conversion and the salvation and redemption of a Nazi commandant who committed genocide reframes and erases history," says one critic, "and forgives the horror of the execution of more than 17 million people in order to advance a larger religious perspective."

Anne Rice has hit out at "internet lynch mobs" attacking controversial books, and this book in particular. After tweeting about this, someone helpfully provided this bit of news where Rice was alleged to have unleashed her followers' wrath on a critic of her own work.

That aside, I'm not certain that romance novels about Jewish concentration camp prisoners and Nazi officers can ever "forgive" the Nazi horrors rubbed into our faces every time they face the threat of being forgotten by whiny social justice types - what are history books for, anyway?

After her latest book, Furiously Happy, was chosen as a top book US librarians would like to share with readers, Jennifer Lawson, a.k.a. The Bloggess penned a love letter to libraries (especially the librarians). It's a poignant piece, especially with Lawson's background:

When I was little my favorite places were libraries. You weren’t expected to speak, which was heaven for a shy girl with an anxiety disorder. Thousands of small secret stories were hidden in plain sight all around you, just waiting to be held in your hands and discovered. As a small girl in rural Texas, I knew that the best chance I had of seeing worlds that would never be open to me, and meeting fantastic people I’d never be bold enough to speak to was through books. I was able to see places that exist (or that had existed, and or that would never exist) through the words of the storytellers whose worlds had been bound up and shared and protected through generations of docent-guardians who called themselves “librarians”.

...sometimes you’d get lucky and there would be a special librarian there. Of course, all librarians were special when you were little. They were the guards and they were larger than life. They knew the secret codex of books. They were good witches and wizards who kept small keys around their necks, keys to special, sacred artifacts you had to know the secret password to see."

A case of a curious banning of a book in Florida unfolds as Mark Haddon's novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was pulled from a school's reading list over swear words.

A local daily, according to The Guardian, even "tallied up the appearances of swear words in the novel: 'the f-word is written 28 times, the s-word 18 times, and the c-word makes one appearance – in Britain that word is less charged than it is in the US,' reported the [Tallahassee Democrat]. 'A few characters also express atheistic beliefs, taking God’s name in vain on nine occasions.'"

Far more F-words and S-words can be found on the Internet. And if one goes through hours of TV programming in the States one might find lots of people "taking G*d's name in vain" on more than nine occasions.

Britain’s best joke at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival features Germany and a mobile phone. At The Daily Beast, Tom Sykes disagrees.

Monday, 17 August 2015

A Pasta House Called Basil

Long story short: I'd been frazzled by developments in my life and it's been eating into my writing. So I over-edited this, according to an acquaintance who has seen multiple versions of this review until she begged, "No more! Send!"

And out it went, with more typos than my usual.

I received queries from the editor of The Malay Mail Online, probably for the first time in years.

Not my finest hour.

Think the major ones have been fixed.

A pasta house called Basil

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 17 August 2015

Weeks after I’d discovered the path to al dente pasta, I learnt about a restaurant that serves mostly pasta. I thought, a bit arrogantly, let’s see how it measures up.

It measured up quite well.

Basil looks a little out of place in the row of shophouses but
has remained a popular neighbourhood joint

I dined in the first time, opting to take out another dish along with leftovers from my meal for the benefit of makan kaki Melody. I think it was a spaghetti bolognese to go, with what remained of an Oriental-styled mac and cheese. The chefs separate the sauce from the pasta — a nice touch.

I came back, several times, with Melody, Wendy and Sam in tow on one or two occasions. But the novelty wore off as the prices — and my repertoire of home-cooked pastas — grew. And I’d come to be satisfied with what I cooked myself.

But I do keep Basil Pasta House at the back of my mind, for special occasions.

Lamb Leg and White Ragù Sauce with Elicoidali (a tube-shaped pasta with
a rough texture): Lamb cubes, cream ragù sauce, white wine, button
mushroom, root vegetables and toasted cashews. Probably enough for two.

This little shop looks out of place among the row of nightspots, car washes, boutiques and other Chinese-themed restaurants along Jalan Kuchai Maju 6. Chef Alven Tan and his brothers opened the place, naming it after a favourite herb. The restaurant is a homey place, not at all intimidating.

At a corner done up to look like a living room is a bookshelf, where you’ll find cookbooks from the likes of Thomas Keller (Bouchon), Rene Redzepi (Noma), Joël Robuchon (can’t remember), Gordon Ramsay (various) and Anthony Bourdain (The Les Halles Cookbook, which I can’t seem to find).

Besides the basic aglio olio, bolognese and genovese (pesto) varieties of pasta, expect other far-out creations such as Hand-made Orecchiette (“little ears”) and Smoked Duck Breast; “Wafu”-style capellini with tuna tataki (tuna, seared medium-rare), served with yuzu shoyu dressing and lumpfish caviar, among other things; and Cheese Bucatini with crispy squid (golden egg-yolk sauce, curry leaf and chilli flakes). For some pasta dishes, you can choose from several types of pasta other than the usual spaghetti or fettuccine.

Nope, not your average “Western” pasta place. The chefs work in black chefs’ togs that seem more at home in a Michelin-starred establishment than a Chinese neighbourhood eatery. And it’s pretty good stuff, judging from the packed dining room almost every evening.

Gnocchi and Spicy Bacon Tomato: Potato gnocchi in amatriciana sauce, tomato
concasse, pork pancetta, chilli flakes, Italian parsley and shavings of Parmesan.
Portions look small but surprisingly filling.

The first few months of its opening, according to the hostess, people complained about the portion-price ratio. Bistro-level dining at less than RM25 (for some dishes) and people still kvetch?

So they revamped the menu, upped the portions a bit and, inevitably, raised the prices. One of my favourites, a fettucine with Japanese lamb curry, is no more.

They also renovated the kitchen. Even so, the inadequate ventilation and long waiting times while each dish is made to order (they go by table) mean diners will end up smelling of each other’s meals by the time they walk out the door — satisfied, a little fragrant and, perhaps, planning a return trip.

Generally, it’s worth the wait. If you’re a-horde-of-gremlins-clawing-at-your-gut hungry, however, I suggest you fill your stomach with something. Perhaps an appetiser from the menu — and chew slowly, please. Maybe read a book or two. Smartphone-toting diners might want to surf their menu (available on their Facebook page) and decide before going there in person.

Orecchiette and Smoked Duck Breast, from way back when. Doubt they've
tweaked the recipe much since this picture was taken.

Calling ahead for reservations, especially for a family outing, is also a good idea.

Just about everything my makan kakis and I tried there were good. Great-tasting and interesting flavour combinations. What I wasn’t enthusiastic about was the Oriental-styled mac & cheese. I think it was the slightly brown bits on the crispy squid. Also, the taste of a wild mushroom risotto was on the delicate side.

And I never seem to want to order the desserts. Well, when each meal stuffs you to the gills...

To this day, Basil Pasta House still draws a good crowd; some days you can see people standing around outside, waiting for their turn. So while I don’t think it needs any more publicity, maybe they can work on improving service and cooking time.

Ah yes, and the ventilation, lest diners have to fight the impulse to gnaw on their sleeves on the way home.

Basil Pasta House
No. 21, Jalan Kuchai Maju 6
Kuchai Entrepreneurs Park
58200 Kuala Lumpur


Wed-Mon: 12pm-2:30pm (last order), 5pm-9:30pm (last order); closes at 10pm

Closed on Tuesdays

+603-7972 8884

Facebook page

Monday, 3 August 2015

What's Wrong With The First Person?

Of all the events during a "festival of ideas" held recently in KL, the only sour note was a panel that talked about, among other things, how to be a better foodie and food reviewer.

I agree that "reviewers" and "food bloggers" who expect to be comped and resort to blackmail when shown the door are the spawn of Satan, and food reviews should be more than just pictures and flowery descriptions - or "wham-bam"-type commentary with multisyllabic adjectives.

But I felt slighted when the panellists described some reviewing methods that sound similar to mine, e.g., no "I", "me", "mine" in the text. At least I try to be entertaining...

And what's wrong with the sharp-edged jottings of certain British reviewers like Jay Rayner? I enjoy Rayner's stuff. As I do Pete Wells's, especially his interrogative piece on Guy's American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square.

William Cheng, a professor at Dartmouth College, has also made the case for more first-person voices in writing - in his case, for his students - in a Slate article:

The goal, of course, isn’t to assure students that it’s all about them—that is, to condone attitudes of entitlement and egotism. The point is for students to recognize that they must listen inward, harnessing a voice from deep down, in order to reach outward and contribute to society at large. Yes, I realize such advice runs the risk of sounding clichéd and sentimental: believe in yourself, the truth lies within, speak from your heart. But I’d rather see students grapple with sentiment than to have them smudge it out altogether.

Because you know what else is a cliché? The notion that good writing stands on its own merits, or that good ideas speak for themselves, or that a good paper can practically write itself. When we empower students to write with I, what we convey is: Stand up for yourself and take responsibility for what you say. Once you’ve found a voice, start thinking of all the people whose voices continue to go unheard. Behind glowing phones and laptop screens, students need to look up and speak out, to collide and connect with one another through exercises in self-expression and self-evaluation.

I posted a short version of this rant on Facebook. One respondent, a journalist with some reputation, says that use of "the first person voice sounds overindulgent but what's for me does not need to be for others. Writers should do whatever makes them happy and bear with whatever the consequence is and whatever viewers and so called experts think."

Yes, we're Asians and yes, we're also Malaysians and maybe, we don't review to criticise. Thing is, we have yet to master the fine art of giving and receiving criticism, from what I've seen on social media. We need to learn how to take it on the chin.

A big part of why we aren't growing up as people of letters is because we're too mindful of what others think, so much so that we can't trust our own opinions and the sum of our knowledge. News of fellow Malaysians being derided or punished for having unpopular opinions don't help.

I don't want to be pressured into being a "better" foodie, food reviewer or writer. Nobody should. And I want to write in a way that's most comfortable for me, for my voice. If one becomes good in the process of writing, it will show.

Ultimately, the audience decides what's good.

Tell you what: I'll do my thing and I-me-mine my way through my own foodie journey. And if I want to, every third word in my future reviews will be drawn from a list that includes gems such as "unctuous", "succulent", "yummy", "aromatic" and "earthy".

Because I can.

Because I want to.

And because, as Professor Cheng said, there's "no voice without I."