Sunday, 31 May 2015

Recipe: Sar Hor Fun

Tonight's dinner was a little trip down memory lane for Dh and I.  When we were going out we used to eat at a local little Asian restaurant fairly often.  It was nothing to write home about, and a peek into the kitchen would have been a tad off-putting for the germ-o-phobes amongst us (I am not one - six years in a third world country cures one of these things if ever they had an issue).  The food, however, was delicious, cheap and plentiful.  It was a mix of Chinese and Malaysian and the owner of the restaurant knew what we loved and could pretty much order for us.  Really, ordering our meal was more about confirming that nothing had changed than actually placing an order.  Dh always ordered Char Kway Teow.  He still does when it is available.  I can't remember what I would order.

One of the dishes served at that restaurant, and one I adored was Sar Hor Fun.  It is a fried flat rice noodle dish with a mixture of meat and seafood with a soupy kind of sauce over the whole thing.  It was completely delicious and tasty and not spicy.  A perfect counterbalance to the Char Kway Teow, which is quite spicy.

Armed with fresh rice noodles and a package of pork balls from our trip to the Asian grocery last Monday this meal popped into my head this afternoon.  Thanks to the internet recipes for such things are not too difficult to find and I chose my recipe based on the pictures that went with it.  This one looked exactly as I recalled it should look and so with a quick trip to Safeway to pick up the three things I needed I set about recreating a meal of my memories.

It was perfect.  I sat there, eating my dinner, saying "Oh, this is perfect - as good as any I've ever had in a restaurant".  I kid you not, it was that good!  How often do you try to make some recipe that you've had in a Chinese restaurant and been disappointed that you can't make it taste the same?  I know, right? Well, this recipe was everything I desired and remembered.  So good!  Dh agreed it was really good.  Our kids wondered what was going on....what is this slop?  what are you making us eat?  what is this odd thing in here?  I don't think they'd ever had pork balls.

This recipe was very simple and not too time consuming at all.  A few little tips that might help you out:

  • I soaked the rice noodles in boiling water for about five minutes, drained them and then separated them afterwards.  Because much of the oil had been washed away I added a little back when I mixed them with the soy sauces.
  • My packet of rice noodles was 1kg instead of 300g.  I used the whole pack and tripled everything else except the stock...that was 500ml plus a large splash of water from the kettle.  It was perfect for our family of five adult eaters, with a little leftover for someone's lunch tomorrow.
  • I fried the noodles then removed them from the pan.  Then I did the garlic, prawns and pork balls.  I added the stock and sauce to this, thickened with cornflour and then added three whole eggs as per the instructions.  Then I added the noodles back in.  It looks sloppy and messy.  Don't be put off!
  • I wasn't able to get squid, so I had 300g of green prawns and the pack of pork balls that I had sliced.  I think something seafood and something either pork or chicken will work.  This part of the recipe doesn't have to be prescriptive.
  • I splurged on good quality organic chicken stock.  It was worth it, unless you happen to have some on hand.
Go here for the recipe.  Go'll love it!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Curry Night

One of the things I love about travelling overseas is that you come home with delicious things you want to recreate.  Partly because it just tastes yummy, and I think also because we want to hold on to those memories and experiences you got to enjoy.  The other night we did just that, with an authentic Malaysian curry.  I always thought it would be much harder or more complicated or filled with hard-to-get ingredients.  I did have to drive a little to get some of the things I needed for this curry, but a little bit of planning makes those kinds of trips worthwhile, if you combine a few errands together.  I confess I was unable to find the fresh tumeric, but I added some ground tumeric and it was fine.

For the curry I used Poh's Malaysian Nyonya Chicken Curry recipe.  It was easy!  Make the wet paste, fry, add the chicken, potatoes and liquid and let it cook.  So simple!  One thing Poh mentioned in the accompanying video is that belacan (pronounced bel-ah-ch-ahn) is stinky.  And it is...SSOOOO stinky!  But it wouldn't be authentic without it, so in it went.  It kind of gives the curry a unique pungent scent, but you absolutely do not taste that when you eat it.  So if you try the recipe, put the belacan in.  You need it!

To go with our curry I also made roti canai bread (again, Poh's recipe), for the first time ever.  Why, I ask you, did I not know to try this before now?  This was so easy to make!  There is no yeast.  You just mix and then knead the dough and roll it into little balls and let it sit for quite a few hours before stretching and folding into roti.  The recipe says to let it sit overnight, but I my dough at 6.30 in the morning and stretch and folded it in the middle of the afternoon before I was going to be out for a while.  It behaved perfectly.

And it was perfectly delicious!

As I was eating this beautiful, authentic, delicious meal I thought about how food transports us to other times and places.  How wonderful that, through a meal, we can travel the world without even leaving home!

The great thing about this meal, apart from having yummy leftovers for dinner tonight, is that I made the curry in the morning and after it had cooled for half an hour, I left it in the fridge in its cooking pot to be reheated later.  The roti really needs to be cooked right before eating, but I had done everything before I went to pick the kids up from school.  When I got home at 5.45pm that evening I literally pan-fried the bread, reheated the curry, put on some rice and voila.  Dinner was done.

And I felt just a teensy bit satisfied that it wasn't all that taxing at dinner time.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Asian Grocery Adventures

Our Town is a little out of the way.  In the sense that it takes us half an hour to get anywhere half way useful. You know, to places like a Westpac Bank branch, or a shopping centre, or a Safeway ... oh wait, everywhere else it's called Woolworths ... that has halfway decent stock lines, compared to our glorified milk bar of a supermarket.  Now we don't mind this out-of-the-way life, because it is quiet and peaceful and our air is crisp and clean and fresh smelling.  But when it comes to finding speciality things we have to drive a ways.  On Monday Miss Sunshine and I did just that.

I have always loved Asian grocery stores.  They are such an adventure with shelves filled with exotic ingredients that are somewhat unfamiliar.  And other things we haven't had in years because in our very Anglo area we just can't get things we'd love to have more often.  On Monday we really went in search of Asian green tea, having discovered that I actually like the Asian version.  We came home with green tea, green jasmine tea and oolong tea (because oolong is always our favourite chinese tea).  And as we wandered the aisles we found other things we thought might be worth trying.  The other thing we noticed is that with many things the Asian grocers are cheap.  And I mean CHEAP.

Take the above pictured star anise and cinnamon quills.  These were $1.49 each...which means $1.50 because we no longer of have 1c pieces here.  But still.  A buck and a bit for my 50g of cinnamon.  In Safeway....errrr.... Woolworths (OK, don'tjudge me here...we still have Safeway, the sign on the outside of the stores says so) these little treasures cost $3.39 for just 12g.  Which is why I never buy them - highway robbery!

So as well as the tea leaves I also bought star anise, cinnamon, dried chillis and curry leaves (among many other things!).  Because if you go somewhere and eat something you think you just can't live without eating again soon you get online and find a recipe.  Dh and I adore curry and we had some beautiful curries while we were in Malaysia and I have found a recipe for a Malaysian chicken curry that I desperately want to try.  With roti bread.

I'll let you know how that goes.  If I'm doing really well I'll remember to take photos!

In the meantime, check out an Asian grocery store for spices that does not make you feel like you have to open a vein to pay for it.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Food Lessons from Malaysia

We had a wonderful trip to Malaysia.  The business portion was very positive, and catching up with old friends was so precious.  Discovering that our friends are in professional positions which we will potentially be requiring is a huge comfort.  They are very protective of our interests!

My biggest learning from this trip:  the way Malaysians honour their guests is to take them to places where the best food is served.  It may not be in the most upmarket surroudings, but that is not the most important aspect!  The photo above is of the restaurant at Fish Valley in Semenyih.  It is south-east from Kuala Lumpur and quite a way out.  Our business associates brought us here for lunch, and really, we weren't sure what to expect.  As it turned out, sitting in an open, covered space was perfect.  It rained, and the wind picked up a bit. It was a relief in the heat and humidity that is normal for KL.  And the food?  Brilliant and delicious.  Worth the long drive. 

When we told our friends, the next night over dinner, where we had been they decided we were terribly adventurous and wondered if we were still well.  Not much knocks our strong constitutions off balance and we were well (and continue to be so) over the whole trip.

Also, Malaysian green tea does NOT taste like Australian green tea.  Our green tea tastes grassy to me.  Theirs tastes quite refined.  I ended up coming home with tea bags that were given to me by one of our friends.  She insisted, so how could I say no?  I continue to be delighted by that discovery.  If Dh goes back in a couple of months he will have a shopping list!

And while we were gone our children had a marvellous time with an older cousin and his wife.  None of them were any more sensible than the other, and our children really didn't need babysitting since they are quite old enough and self-sufficient.  Miss Sunshine is 19 and able to transport and organise the others.  But it worked well for balance and their sense of security.  Our nephew and his wife declared they should be glad to come if we needed to travel again.  Our house is much closer to their work, so it was incredibly convenient....not to mention the cousin-party each night!

Suitcase Update:  We took two.  Mine was small, Dh's was larger.  His was a mess, and mine was not.  We were both very happy!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A suitcase question: To share or not to share?

Our lastest conversation in preparation for our trip:

Dh:  I think we could get away with one suitcase for both of us.

The last time we shared a suitcase was approximately 17 million years ago.  Well...maybe just 17, without the million.  But a long time.  As I recall it, we were camping (in a tent) and it was torture.  My side of the case was nice and neat and tidy.  His side of the case looked like a bomb had gone off and it just spread across over my stuff.  Every single time he went to the case I had to go back and tidy it up - for my own sanity, you understand, not because I was being all loving and serving or anything so virtuous.  I vowed, then, that we would never share a case again. 

Oddly, this mess thing only happens while travelling.  At home his clothes are put away (not by me, in case that's what you're thinking.  I'm not that nice) and it doesn't hit my radar as something to deal with, because it just isn't there.

Personally, I'd be content with my small case (a bit bigger than carry-on size) and he can take the case the next size up, for his shoes and the coffee he wants to take with us.  I'm not so keen on making the smell of coffee my signature scent.

Do you share a suitcase with your spouse/partner when you travel?  Why or why not?

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Is what you're living for....

I have been watching a whole bunch of stuff online this week.  Ted Talks, sermons, McLeod's Daughter's (it can't be helped...good Aussie drama is always my gig).  Somewhere through the week I saw a video that asked this question in the background of whatever it was I was watching:

Is what you're living for 
worth Christ's dying for?
 What a great question!  Salvation is the most beautiful gift, but it isn't something that should be received and then stuck up on a high shelf for later.  The Giver of this gift intended for us to use it every single day.  It comes with responsibility.  The give of salvation is so enormous and so life-changing that it should propel us to live lives characterised by gratitude.  We should be sharing this gift and letting its purfume scent every aspect of our lives. 

That means using our gifts and talents for the good and benefit of others.  It means forgiving generously because we have been forgiven of everything.  It means loving others with an unconditional, immense, immeasurable love because Christ loved us like that all the way to death.  It means being gracious under fire, because trials are part of this life, and Christ showed us how to do this too.  It means aligning ourselves with God's purposes and his work instead of setting out to do our own thing.

Challenging question, huh? 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

And then Miss Sunshine died of laughter....

Dh and I have been talking, quite a bit, about what we want to do while we're in Malaysia, because seeing the cup manufacturer won't take too much time.  We know quite a few people who were once students here in Melbourne and attended our church whilst they were here so there will be a bit of catching up over yummy meals, I'm sure.  But they all seem to suggest shopping.  Dh assures me I will be dumbfounded at the cheap prices.

But shopping?

Last night we had Miss Sunshine in the car with us and Dh was saying he didn't plan to pack much because he would just buy stuff there.  To which I responded:  "I am not going to spend our three free days shopping because you can't be bothered packing.  Just stab me in the eye right now because it would be less torturous".

And Miss Sunshine just rolled around the back seat laughing til her sides hurt.  For a long time.  "Stab me in the eye..... ha ha ha".  I didn't think it was that funny, but it certainly tickled her.

I don't get it.  We've been married nearly 25 years and were together 5 before that.  You'd think after 30 years your husband would know that shopping is not your thing.  My kids have it figured out.  Miss Sunshine can time it to the minute - I have a two-hour limit and then I keel over with brain fog and exhaustion.  Last Saturday when we had to go and buy Mr Busy's birthday present we were gone for so long Miss Sunshine sent us a text:  "You've been gone a long time, is Mum still alive?"

I reckon we can get any and all shopping required or desired out of the way on the evening of the day we arrive.  We land around 4pm.  It could all be overwith before we go to bed that night.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Panic Stations Everyone!!!

Tasks for the weekend:
  • Teach all day on Friday.
  • Calm the panicked daughter who needs to write a 1500 word report by Monday.  After doing an ecosystem study.  And it's pouring with rain (Yay, Melbourne!)
  • Take Miss Mischief shopping to relieve panicked daughter of the time crunch she's experiencing (please just poke my eyes out now.  Shopping...sob, sob).
  • Go out for lunch with a friend on Saturday.
  • Help the panicked daughter work out how to use Excel.
  • Shop for food (why do we have to do this every single week???).
  • Calm the panicked daughter when she has a meltdown about what to write next.
  • VACUUM (I need a cleaner!)
You see how this is going to play out, right?  There will be stressing and cranky-pants behaviour going on for the next four days until that assignment is all researched, written and submitted.  And then it will all be over, she'll blitz the thing and get some distinction or high distinction grade, like it was no big deal.

And what will I get?  Her undying love and gratitude, and her admission that mothers know everything and should be listened to exactly all of the times.  All of them. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Faith Files: The Wait Space

I wonder how you cope with and manage things when there is a lengthy period of time between a promise from God, and actually receiving what was promised?  Do you just rest, knowing that God's got it under control, or do you get all angsty and mopey and whiney.  Or frustrated and annoyed?

These past months have been long.  Dark.  Confusing.   I confess to all the angsty, mopey, whiney, frustrated and annoyed emotions!

Over recent months there has been a long space of time, for me, where I knew God had a plan, but I couldn't see that he was working on it.  I couldn't see if anything was coming together.  Well into this dark space we had a sermon, at church, about why God doesn't seem to answer our prayers.  I was super interested in how that question would be handled, because my father and I had just spoken a few days before and he told me that old "God sometimes says yes, sometimes no and sometimes wait".  My response to him was "Well, Dad, I don't like that answer much.  Because the wait doesn't ever sound like "wait", it sounds more like silence and the silence is dark and cold and scarey".  That silence just feels like there isn't an answer at all and you start to question what you think you know about God.  Does he really keep ALL his promises?  Does he really hear all my prayers, and are that really that special to him?  Is God who he says he is, all the time?  That sermon?  Said all the same things: yes, no, wait.  Not much help there!!

My season of waiting has been met with silence.  During our fast there were five specific things I was praying over, two of which related to our work and finances.  During those weeks of fasting most of the things I was praying for became worse!  The darkness closed in and I prayed harder.  More specifically.  More deliberately.  I started asking God why.  "Why, if you are a God who keeps promises, can I not see you doing that?".  I have been waiting for the provision of a job since I resigned in December last year.  In truth, I have been applying for teaching positions since August last year, because that is the season for advertising positions for the following school year.  I resigned because I absolutely knew that God was leading me out of the role and the place I had been and asking me to trust him to step fully into what he had planned for me.  Five months a long time to wait.  In silence.  When you're waiting for a job and the bills keep rolling in and it doesn't look exactly like God is quite meeting all the financial needs you have.

About a month ago I finally decided I was tired of being blown about by the winds of my emotions.  If God is a promise-keeping, reliable, unchanging God who loves me with an all-consuming love, do I really believe that, even when I can't see it and things seem hard?  Has God changed, just because I don't understand what he is doing?  So I had words with God one day and I drew a line in the sand.  Like Job, I decided to choose trust and worship while I waited.  I decided to choose to believe what I know to be true rather than what I felt like I was experiencing.  I decided that the space of waiting, between stepping out in faith and experiencing fulillment of God's promises to provide, needed to be a time characterised by worshipping God for who he is, not what I felt.  I needed to choose belief instead of unbelief and doubt.

When I became intentional about the waiting space in my life God showed up to show me who he is.  He showed me that he does not ever change and that my understanding of my circumstances is limited at best; that his ways and thoughts are so far above mine.  I learnt that trials are an expected part of life.  After all, if Christ endured trials, what on earth makes me think I should be exempt?  God reminded me that he is a solid foundation, a place of rest, the protector, redeemer, restorer.  He is trustworthy and fulfils his promises in the way he sees fit, not how I think I want things to eventuate.  When I let go of my questions and chose trust and worship I was able to rest in the knowledge that my future is secure, even though I can't see the path ahead.  I let the questions and the worry and the anxiety go and chose to just wait peacefully.

Three weeks ago I attended a job interview, after months of absolutely nothing to show for application after application.  I was told that I was one of only two interviews being conducted for the position, despite numerous applications from which to choose.  It was the most beautiful, amazing interview, and while I waited for the school leaders to deliberate, phone referees and make their decision I decided the best way to position myself would be to desire God's will.  If the position was to be mine, to give me a heart for this community and these students.  If the position was to be another's, to be content that God would bring the right job.  Because as much as I desperately want to teach, I want to be in the exact place that God wants me to be.  It seems to be that God likes it when I get to that place with him.  When I lay down all my cares and worries and desires, and choose a posture of personal surrender and preference for God's will in the situation.

Two days after I got to that place I was offered the position (can you say "happy dance"!!!)

The 'wait space' is difficult in so many ways.  But this has ended up being a beautiful learning time in which I have again learnt that God does indeed fulfil his promises.  It's hard to remember, in the wait space, that his plans are always good and always the best for us, even when they don't quite look how we wanted them to.   I didn't think I wanted to travel more than 15 minutes and I didn't feel excited about teaching the top end of Primary school.  During my interview and the trip there and back I've realised God knows best.  The half-hour trip will be the perfect buffer between work and home.  A half hour of my own thoughts in the silence of my own car, driving myself instead of the learner driver thing.  And I know I will fall in love with the students I get to share my days with.  I can't wait to get started!  Mid-July seems so far away!!!!

What I know is that the wait space can be a beautiful place of trust, worship, belief and surrender.  It requires us to lead our souls beyond our emotions and to choose what we know to be true.  And God shows up.  He is absolutely and completely a good Father who knows the plans he has for our success and future and blessing.

The wait space can be a blessing too.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Mother's Day is NOT my favourite day

Mother's Day is perhaps one of my least favourite days of the year. Years of expectations unfulfilled, the day feeling like any other day.  Of hoping for a special breakfast or flowers or afternoon tea baked by more-than-capable children and being disappointed.

This year I think we turned the corner.  It's only taken 19 years.

Flowers.  Dinner I didn't have to cook.

In fact, I had taken some chicken fillets out of the freezer and just put them in the microwave to defrost when Dh came out to suggest take-away from the brand new Chinese restaurant in Our Town.  And rather than be all grouchy and matyrish I told Dh that I was happy for him to win this one.  I whipped those fillets back into the freezer, put on some rice and waited to see what dinner would be.  It was delicious and featured our favourite dishes. 

Maybe next year the children will convince Dh to book a restaurant for lunch weeks ahead of time?  Or maybe they'll go to the effort of baking scones or a cake for afternoon tea.

Mother's Day is still not my favourite day.  But this one was a vast improvement.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

This! #GoodYoungMen

Mr Busy, holding his younger cousin's hand 
through the Denver Zoo "so she wouldn't get lost" 

This morning I read the most beautiful blog post from Ann Voskamp about bringing up boys to be good young men.  Ann talked about her boys.  About the one who sent her to the edge of herself.  I know that place.  We are doing the 14yo boy thing here and it's hard.  The grunting.  The aggressive emotional reactions.  The lack of personal responsibility.  The butt-kicking required in order for homework to be completed.  It's hard work.  I am wondering if we will make it through to the end of Year 12 in one piece, he and I.

But Ann reminded me of something today.  My son is a #GoodYoungMan.  Under all the hormonal,14yo, angsty and emotional stuff he is a beautiful boy who will grow up to be the greatest man.  I know this because I see little glimpses of it.  Little moments of light and beauty where I see the truth of who he is peeking out.  A boy who loves to help and serve and care.  Who is funny and engaging.  Who works harder than many men and does not stop til the job is done.  Who is gentle and compassionate and generous.

 So gentle that wallabies happily lie at his feet while
he strokes them gently and feeds them

Yesterday my son was publically lifted up for the way he served tirelessly, selflessly, enthusiastically to make a dinner for new people in our church the success that it was.  He helped set up and cook the barbeque.  He sat at the table with a bunch of people he'd never met and conversed intelligently.  He helped entertain some gorgeous little people so parents could enjoy conversation.  And then he helped pack everything away again.  He didn't grumble or complain once.  It was noticed and shared amongst leaders in our church during our staff meeting.  The woman who shared said "I want my son to grow up to be like that".  And I got to share that encouragement with my Good Young Man.

Because he might be 14 and drive me to pulling out my hair in utter despair.  He might drive me to my knees, wondering if we'll make it through these years of sitting still to study and write.  But this boy, this beautiful, gentle-hearted boy is a part of a generation of boys who will grow up to be the most amazing young men.
"There are good young men who need someone
 to show them they are trustworthy by 
entrusting them with worthy work, who take 
the time to inspect their work so they know 
what to expect, who give them confidence to
 do hard things by giving them hard things to do."
~ Ann Voskamp ~

Let's remember to look beyond our current challenges and entrust our boys with opportunities to do worthy, hard things that help them see who they really are.  To be Good Young Men. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Slow Road -- Regaining some Kitchen Love

It has been a long time since I've "loved" cooking.  At least it feels like a long time.  Maybe it's just the constant, relentless pressure of family expectation that satisfying meals brimming with love will grace the table every single night.  In truth, the best meal I've had at home seem to be the one which consisted of the worst excuse for meat I will ever buy and paired with packaged coleslaw.  Because all I did was throw something in the oven, open bags and tip things in bowls.  After six weeks of absolutely no short cuts this somehow felt good.  It wasn't good.  The meat was maybe not even meat.  And ever since that meal and the end of our fast I have moaned and groaned about people who think they have to eat every. single. day.

What is with that?

But I am on my way back.  Millimeter, by millimeter.  The first meal that felt good in every sense of the word was a meal of the best leftovers I've ever seen!  We had a welcome dinner for some new people in our church and we were sent home with an abundance of leftovers.  The meal above was made from cold jacket potatoes made into salad with coleslaw to which I added dressing and chicken tenderloins.

Tenderloins.  Let's talk about that!  I have never bought them because I figured they would be so dry, like breast meat tends to be.  I was so completely and exactly wrong.  They are silky and moist and perfect.  We've had them a few times since last weekend.  Tossed in flour with salt and old bay seasoning and then pan-fried, they seem to just be perfect with everything.  I am in love with them, I think.

The second meal came in the form of Miss Sunshine's birthday meal.  The poor girl is now 19 and birthday's are officially boringly grown up.  But she finally chose her meal and opted for a creamy alfredo pasta bake with homemade apple and strawberry pie for dessert.  This meal was just chicken (tenderloins!!!), asparagus and semi-dried tomatoes mixed in with the cooked pasta, cream and sour cream.  Don't judge - it was a birthday.

This very simple meal was delicious and quick and easy and.... well... everything I think I've been missing.  It just felt nice to be in the kitchen making a meal that would bring joy.  And for two days in a row I've been able to make dinner without having a meltdown.

Tonight?  Roast chicken and vegies.  Perfect on a windy, rainy day.

Speaking of weather, did you know it is 33C in Kuala Lumpur right now?  And humid?  While it's all of, like, 15C here?  Dh & I are heading there in a few weeks.  I'll be melting instead of shivering.  Who are we?  I have no idea.  This is not anything close to how we roll around here.  But Dh needs to see a man about some cups and this will be the very last time I will have the freedom to accompany him during the school term.