It is exactly 2 weeks since I wrote my last post. “Why has it taken me so long to write a new post?” It is not easy to think of what to write next. Even harder after visiting such wonderful places like Laos and Penang in my recent trip. There was so much to share and talk about that finding the next thing to write other than the trip is quite hard.
I can sit in front of my Apple MacBook, with the cursor blinking, blinking and blinking for the first word on the keyboard. But, nothing comes out. How does one find the inspiration to write?
So to keep going, I will leave to my imagination and what comes naturally to my mind at the time. I need a term of reference – “Kitchen”.
A kitchen is the heart of a house. It is the wealth corner where most things take place, and where lots of “chatting” goes on. In a traditional Chinese house, there is an altar worshipping a “Kitchen God” that protects the family. On the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, just before Chinese New Year, the Kitchen God returns to Heaven to report the activities of the household over the past year to the Jade Emperor.
My mum always thought me to be good in the kitchen and never say bad things in a kitchen. Otherwise, they will get reported back to the Jade Emperor, and the family will be punished for the following year. But, we are only human. It is hard not to murmur a single bad word, argue, shout or complain about things in the Kitchen, for three hundred and sixty five days. A Kitchen is where we share everything – our food and how the day went, whether it was good or bad. But, there is a trick. Before the Kitchen God ascend to Heaven, the family will make an offering of “Ti Kuih” which is make from glutinous rice finely grinded and sweeten with lots of sugar. This is to sweeten the mouth of the Kitchen God and make his lips sticky so he will report only sweet, good things to the Jade Emperor.
A Kitchen is where food is being prepared and where I find an inspiration to explore and be creative.
When I first moved to Tasmania six years ago, I never imagine that I have talents other than working in a full time professional project management job.
I opened a restaurant with no prior background in running my own business or cooking in a commercial kitchen. It was quite an adventure and exhilarating experience for me. That was one of the biggest highlight of my life. It was a dream. A beautiful dream that came true and a great journey to remember for a lifetime. My only regret is that my parents have never seen it.
I discovered my other talent in gardening. I turned an acre of pasture rich paddock land to a wonderful garden with many variety of flowers, plants, trees, shrubs, spring and summer bulbs. Few years later, I started growing my own herbs – tarragon, basil mint, Thai mint, lemongrass, oregano, peppermint, chamomile, curry tree, curry plant and kaffir lime. Last year I started a vegetable patch of peas, onions, cabbage and tomatoes. Now I have planted carrots and sweet corns.
My own homegrown peas. Nice firm sweet and crunchy.
My own homegrown red onions – a bit small. Sweet in flavour and not too pungent. Quite delicate.
I also discovered that I love cooking and be creative and imaginative with the ingredients I have in the pantry and fridge. Some time I like a simple and quick meal. But other times especially on a weekend, I like to explore and create a more elaborate meal.
There is no fix and fast rule on what go into an Asian dish. It is up to my own imagination. For example, fried rice. Each person has his/her own version. Sometimes, I invented a different fried rice using different ingredients and sauces. In the version below, I used an overnight rice in the fridge with a bit of chopped garlic, tiger prawns, omelette, shredded lettuce, chopped chili, pieces of chicken meat, caramelised dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sprinkle of salt and pepper.
I served the fried rice with an improvised basil chili chicken with zucchini and unsalted cashew nuts. See my Recipe page on Basil Chili Chicken.
And, another dish of garlic tiger prawn with cauliflower and asparagus.
A Kitchen is where I can share a story.
A story that I shared with a friend a few years ago while cooking in the Kitchen.
I remember when I was studying at Arkansas, I was offered a job as a live-in caretaker for a wealthy middle age solicitor. He lives by himself in an enormous property surrounded by a large collection of Asian and European antiquities. He was seldom at home, living a high profile life and dining out mostly.
One night, he returned home very drunk. I could hear him clearly as he came through the front door. He slammed the door shut, echoing through the house with no other sound except the heavy footsteps of a six foot five body frame. The footsteps grew louder and louder, with an eerily heavy puffing sounds of a large, one hundred kilo man. It was getting closer and closer to my bedroom. He was yelling for my name. He started turning my doorknob, but it was locked. He was very upset and started banging really loud at my door and yelled my name a few times. It lasted for 5 minutes but felt like 5 hours to me! I wished I were never there. It was so remote and isolated. No one will hear me even if I called out for help. I kept very silent inside the room and clutched to my pillow tightly. I slowly went back to sleep.
At the slightest daylight streaming through the horizontal blinds of my bedroom window, I slowly and quietly got out of bed. Turned the doorknob gently without making a single sound. It was silent throughout the house except a faint snore coming from behind the bedroom door of the solicitor. I quickly packed my bag and tip toe my way out of the house and disappeared from the property never to be seen again!
I felt a sense of pity for the solicitor. He was a very lonely man with material wealth around him and no one to share with.
We are surrounded by material things, wealth and greed. Some people may say there is nothing wrong with that, but I am so humble by the infectious smiles and laughters of children in Laos’s villages when I visited them with a few books and coloured pencils. It was incredible to look at their innocent faces and the joy such small gifts bring to them, and the simple sustainable living they have in their own farms.