Nov 30, 2010

Once in a blue moon

I just love the Marcels and their Blue Moon song. Although it has nothing to do with my story today. All the wine songs are not very interesting.

My post today is about wine. Making it. And the story I was told about making it. All the myths, superstitions and what-noughts. Ever since I found out how to make it, I told myself that I must teach others about it and tell them all the grandmother tales about it are half the truth.

Making Rice wine at home is like going for an adventure trip. You have packed, and read all the notes, literature about the upcoming trip. Planned everything ahead of time. At the starting point, everything seems to be working along fine. Halfway through your journey, things just go wrong. You try to fix it in your best ability. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. At the end of this adventure, you tell yourself this:

"Yay! I made it! Sure, I have 101 problems and I need to figure it out. But hey! Its a pretty good for a first timer!"

This is how I see making wine is. As John Scully used to say "The Journey is the REWARD!".

It took me 10 kg of rice, and several months of trial and error, I finally found the answer to all my questions about wine making at home. Along the way, I met old wine masters (people who made wine as a business for sale or just for home consumption) and learn a thing or two about the perfect wine fermentation process.

Before my grandmother story starts, let me show you what I have achieve in my journey of wine making :

My most precious home made Chinese Yellow wine (Huang Jiu). It takes a year to reach this colour

Cherry wine : Made with Dark Sweet Cherries, pitted. This is just for fun. Took a fraction of the time to make.

2 Glasses of Chinese Wine : Yellow is Huang Jiu, Gold coloured wine is actually Dried Raisins Wine. You really need to have alot of patience to make dried friuits wine.

Black Glutinous Rice Wine..made with Black Glutinous Rice and Black Dates. Not for everyone/anyone. I made this for my friend, Miss Irene Yip of Chef Secrets Cooking Studio when she underwent a series of surgeries and was very weak and anemic. Very potent stuff and she drinks this as a health tonic.

My most prized home made wine (*by my mom, my dear sweet Mother in law, my aunts). Its used for cooking and can be drunk straight. Good home made Bai Mi Jiu is slightly cloudy and not really see through like water. Almost translucent.

Here's the basic recipe to make a bottle of good wine.

Bai Mi Jiu
Recipe by all the Wine Masters, perfected by Gina Choong
For the purpose of detailed documentation, you have to attend my wine making class to learn the full effects.

Yields 750ml wine
1kg white glutinous rice
1 pc of wine yeast
3 tbsp fine sugar

enough water to cook the rice in a rice cooker

Tools you will need:
2 large glass jar with a cover.(1 for wine fermentation, 1 for storing the rice wine residue)
2 clean glass bottles and 2 pcs of cork that can fit the bottles.
1 clean kitchen towel

1. Wash the rice under tap water. Make sure that there are no bugs, dirt in it.
2. Drain and cook it in a rice cooker, add water based on rice cooker measurements.
3. When its cooked, remove to air it. Make sure its completely COOLED.
4. Pound the wine yeast into powder and mix with the sugar.
5. Make sure the glass jar is cleaned and VERY DRY.
6. Mix the rice with the yeast/sugar mix, stuff into the jar and press it down.
7. The rice should only be 60 to 70% of the jar.
8. Cover with a kitchen towel cloth, then followed by the cover of the jar.
9. Leave it aside, untouched, undisturbed for 21 days.

Harvesting the wine
1. Scoop out the wine and leave it on a sieve which sits on top of a pot.
2. Leaving it alone to drain as much liquid it can. Pour the rice residue into another clean jar.
3. Repeat this process till all the wine are harvested.
4. Pour the wine into cleaned bottles fitted with a cork.
5. Leave it aside to settle and separated. This may take 2 to 5 days.
6. This is considered the FIRST yield and it looks cloudy and murky.
7. When it settles after a few days, this is what you will get..see pic below. The clear wine will float to the top of the bottle..the white residue will settle at the bottom of the bottle.
8. Slowly tip the bottle to pour out the clear wine and bottled it again. This is ready for cooking, or drinking.
9. The leftover residue can be poured back into the rice wine residue to continue with the fermentation.

What can you use to the Rice Wine Residue for?
The most common way is to use it for cooking.
Just 2 to 3 tbsps of this wine rice residue on top of Fresh prawns and off to the steamer for 5 mins. You get Wine Prawns.
Or marinate 3 tbsp with chicken and leave it overnight in the fridge, and fry it with ginger the next day. You get a good Wine Chicken with Ginger.

But my all time favourite way was to use it to make the traditional Huat Kueh
The recipe is long winded.

1. Never put the jar next to the window where the sun shines into.
2. Never put the jar next to the stove..the heat from the stove will kill the fermentation
3. Never shake the jar too often.
4. During the crucial first 7 days, DO NOT open the jar even just to take a sniff at it. This will allow new air to enter the jar and slows down the fermentation process.

Why add sugar?
Sugar is used to help to kick start the wine fermentation. Its not to make it sweeter. If you know how to make wild yeast, sugar was use to mix with water, flour and left out to ferment. It turns sour and thus Wild yeast is 'born'.

Through my experiments at home, I found that without sugar, the wine still tastes the same. Only visual difference is the amount of yield per 1kg of rice. With Sugar, you get 750ml of wine. Without sugar, you get about 500ml +/-. The rice residue is more grainy without sugar, and more 'mashy soft' with sugar.

If you do this properly, by the 3rd day, you will see water emitting from the bottom of the jar. This is the early stages of wine fermentation. This is not really water.

Now the story behind the myths:

Myth no 1
You can only make wine at night.
The truth is…
Too much light will kill the wine yeast and prevent a proper fermentation. That is why winemaking should take place under low light – as in evening or at night.

Myth no 2
You have to do it alone. No one can help you.
The truth is…
In the old days when measurements were vague, wine-makers did not measure ingredients precisely, preferring to go by their instincts, according to quality of ingredients. As the saying goes: “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, and in this case, a single cook is better than two.

Myth no 3

You must be the only person to harvest the wine or it will go bad.
The truth is…
The person who started the wine is the best person to judge its fermentation progress. The wine jar can only be opened after the first seven days, when the wine will have matured. If the jar is opened up too often before that, fermentation may stop.

Myth no 4
You must hide the wine under the bed.
The truth is…
During fermentation, wine cannot be exposed to direct heat or sunlight. You can put the jar anywhere dark and cool, as long as it is not near direct sunlight or heat.

Myth no 5
You must be in a good mood when you are making wine.
The truth is…
This is more like truth than myth. If you are in a bad mood, you may hurry through the process or forget a crucial step. Wine making takes time and attention. And, the best ingredients in any recipe are always the love and passion the cook puts in!

Nov 26, 2010

Tears in Heaven

I am not a big fan of Eric Clapton(song writer and artiste). But a friend once told me he written and sang this song "Tears in Heaven" after he lost his son.

So it seems that this song was often sung or dedicated to folks who lost their little ones. I think its really a very sad song if you put it in that perspective. That is this part in my life as a mother I never talked about... loosing a baby. I never have had lost a baby or child...but I lost 2 in the making.

The first came and was brief, sudden. I was in my early 2nd month of marriage. Still in my so called honeymoon stage. I missed a period and didn't thought of it. Then I told my mom about it, she said better go and check. And I found I was pregnant. I didn't know whether I was happy or sad or excited. I wanted a baby..I think Benny would love to have one too. But we just got married. It would be ideal if we had time to enjoy each other before the little one comes.

But it was the will of God. Or so we thought. I was getting excited and was pleasantly surprised. Benny and I took time to think and plan what and how we should re-decorate our home. We were staying with my mom soon after my marriage. Our HDB Flat is not ready(still in building stage).

Then I started spotting..soon pain came and before I knew it, I lost my first baby. Just like that. All in 3 and half weeks of knowing I was pregnant. I was devastated. I remembered fondly that my late father in law was very forgiving. He said he ask "Pu Zai" (Buddha) to bless me and I will be pregnant again soon. Although I was a Christian, I knew that he meant well and prayed in his own way for my recovery. My mother in law took care of tonic soups she said would help me to strengthen my womb for a new baby.

My dad told me otherwise :

"Ting, God gives us the BEST of everything. Loosing a baby its not the end of the world. In fact, its the beginning of learning to lean on God for everything. A child lost this way means its never meant to be. Take heart and know that He only gives the best to us."

Then life goes on after that..and true enough almost a year later, when my body and womb has recovered, I was pregnant again. But Natasha as a baby in me also gave me much medical problems. I was bleeding throughout my pregnancy from conception till I was in my 28 weeks. When the bleeding stops, the gynae found too much blood clot in the birth canal and planned that I was to have a C-section.

I was anemic to make matters worse. And had fainting spells all the time. Once into my 20th week, I fainted in town after walking down the steps fro a bus and a passerby rang an ambulance and send me to the hospital. I never got to say "Thank you" to whoever that send me to the hospital.

Natasha was also born prematured..a month shy of being a New Year baby..she was born on 14 December 1990. But she was perfect in every way. Despite of all the medical problems I had to face. She was a splitting image of her dad. My in-laws adored her. And showered her with kisses and hugs. She was my late father-in-law's favourite grand child.

Years later...I wanted to have a 2nd child so that Natasha won't be alone when we are back with God. I was pregnant sometime when Natasha was about 3 years old. This time, we had plans made and then it happened again. Again, I was planning for the baby to come. I had bought all the new baby stuff and bed. Then I lost the baby again..thru a miscarriage. This time, it tore me up really really deep and bad. I found out that my baby was a boy. Which Benny and I had planned to name him "Jonathan" which has a meaning of "Gift of God". I could feel him inside me. Then I bleed like I did with Natasha too. And I thought, that's normal.

But Jonathan was never meant to be. This time, maybe because I wanted a baby so much. My tears were not comforted. I remembered crying alone and I didn't want Benny to see me in tears. I was working in Jardine Fleming back then. Su, my boss was the only person who comforted me. So she send me off to Malaysia, and to Indonesia to work. So that I could forget.

Then I threw away everything I bought for my baby Jonathan. I gave away his baby clothes. I sold the baby cot. I gave away my maternity clothes to the poor. I don't want to see the things I have prepared for him. Natasha was too young back then to understand.

Then a year later..when the dust has settled. My tears have been wiped...I found out I was pregnant again. This time, I told myself not to get too worked up again. Until the baby is born and I am carrying him or her in my arms, its here to stay. Till then, we just wait and see.

2 months into the pregnancy, I started to experience problems. The gynae suggested a fluid test as I was nearing 35 years old. Which I did. And they found out she's a girl and may be a sick baby with multiple deformities.

I remembered the people around me...crying for me silently and praying for me. I remembered Auntie Katherine and my late uncle Daniel Chen(both from USA)..they prayed for her and for me.

Benny and I cried for her. We told God that we do not want to bring her into the world to suffer if she has all these deformities. We ask God to take her away like He did with Jonathan and my first one. But God didn't. In fact, the specialist doctor told us that the fluid test is not a 100% proof that the baby is deform. After all, one is taking fluid in the womb that had the baby's dead skin cells being tested. Its just to know what to expect and how to react.

My dad said "If God gives you a baby and He doesn't take it away, then the baby is meant to be yours forever! Learn to lean on Him and pray for deliverance"

And so we did...for 5 months till her birth, we prayed..together with Brother Kim San from our church. Brother Kim San lead a group of Christian brothers and sisters and prayed every Thursday for her. They ask for God's healing and strength.. For months, no one knew what to expect and along the way, many grew weary. Brother Kim San stood on his ground and lead the group to pray with faith put on God.

My little girl was born 30 weeks. The moment she drew breath, the doctors wheeled her into the incubator. They drew blood from her tiny body to check if she had blood disorder and X ray her to see if she had any deformities inside her. After going thru a battery of tests, scans and X Rays, they found her PERFECT in every way.

When I was awoke from the c-section, Benny and I returned Melody Lim to God...and Thank God for giving her to us to care for and to love. That every breath she takes, is a gift from Him. And every word she speaks, she would speak of His Glory to us all.

Now moving forward.... my Little Melody is 12 years old. Just finished her PSLE and came out tops! Her sister, Natasha is in her first year in University.

When I looked back in time..I knew of the many tears I have shed in silence for Jonathan. I dont' talk about him to anyone. Because it still hurts. So I can understand any woman out there who tells me that they still grieve over their lost baby. If Jonathan is alive, he would be 14 years old now. But I know deep in me..he is in Heaven. Waiting for me and Benny.

Till that day comes, my tears for him will still run..silently, in moments here and there.

To all who frequents my blog and read it with comfort or in know that God oversees us in everything we do. He will give you a child of your own some day..some time. Just learn to lean on Him.

Be Blessed...AMEN!

Nov 14, 2010

Swinging on a Star

Song sung by actor Doris Day..A song I loved as a teenager when I use to be in the school choir. Our choir teacher use to teach us to sing this song. I don't like Birthday I decided to use this for my birthday post.

I literally swinging on a star now..coz my king at home is happy with the Birthday noodles I made for him on his birthday, that's yesterday. I couldn't post yesterday because I had to go to Robinsons at Centrepoint. To assist Chef Halimah in her first class there.

Benny ask for Tonpo Ruo(Stewed Pork Belly) for lunch this weekend. And I thought it was such a good way to use that for his birthday noodles. Litrally breaking way from tradition for a while.

Here's my recipe for this..very elaborate and long winded. But the time is not wasted when someone you are trying to cook this for, appreciates it.

Tea Smoked Tonpo Ruo with noodles
Recipe by Gina Choong


1kg pork belly
5 pcs Slab brown sugar
30ml Dark soya sauce
100ml Light soya sauce
2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tbsp Tie Guan Yin(Chinese Tea leaves)
800ml water
200g spring onions

Ingredients for Smoking
1 cup rice(uncooked, raw)
2 tbsp Tie Guan Yin(chinese tea leaves)

Method to cook the pork
1. Heat up a pot of water to briefly cook the pork for 5 minutes. Discard the water, wash the semi cook pork in tap water.
2. Using a large claypot or big casserole, lined the bottom with spring onions.
3. Put the pork belly(side side down) on top of the spring onions.
4. Stuff tea leaves in a tea bag and also the pepper corns in another tea bag.
5. put in on top the pork.
6. Pour in all the liquid ingredients and making sure the liquid covers the pork.
7. Turn on the fire and leave it to boil, then lower the heat, cover the pot to simmer for 2 hours.
8. Check on the liquid, add hot water occasionally if the level drops below the meat.
9. Test for tenderness of the meat to make sure its cooked through.
10. Turn off fire, remove the pork from the sauce and leave it on a plate.

Method to smoke:
1. Line an old wok with aluminium foil.
2. mix rice and tea leaves together and toss it all over the foil.
3. Put a wire rack/steamer rack on top.
4. Cover the wok and turn on the fire at high heat. Wait till you see some smoke emitting from the sides of the wok, then turn off the fire.
5. Place the plate of pork on the rack, cover the wok again.
6. Leave it to stand(without turning on the fire) for about 1 hour. This allows the meat to absorb/fused with the tea smoke.

Method to serve :
1. Cook noodles over hot water, drain in cold water.Toss it with sesame oil.
2. Add it into a bowl. Place sliced Tonpo Ruo on top of the noodles.
3. Pour hot stewed sauce on top of the noodles.
4. Serve immediately.

I use Tie Guan Yin tea because its 'greener' despite being dried. And it emits a nice robust tea flavour in cooking and smoking.

If you have the patience for smoking, go ahead and try it. Use it to smoke any kind of meats(only after its cooked).
If not, just omit the smoking part.

I mentioned old wok because I have a wok that is heavily scratched/spoiled by the domestic helpers I have in the past. I never throw it out. But use it for such purposes.

Nov 12, 2010

Love Is.. An Anniversary

Today is our 22nd year of wedded bliss..yes, Benny and I were married on this day, 22 years ago, in 1988. The day after, we flew to LA, USA to have our honeymoon. It was also his birthday.

I remembered our first anniversary, spent in our first home. We were broke after spending all our savings on the wedding, the holidays and doing up our first house. Back then, I couldn't cook a decent meal. I was literally an amateur in every aspect as a home maker. Being old fashioned and old school, Benny wanted no cakes just a bowl of noodles soup with an egg and maybe a chicken thigh on the side. And that was what we had.

To make it look romantic, I tried to put up 2 candles, and I bought sparkling juice to make up as champagne like the kind we see in fancy Hollywood romantic movies.

It was the most memorable day for me that day, 21 years ago. Why? Because I can't cook, I think I was a lousy wife. And I cook that noodles straight out of a pack of Instant noodles with the soup base pack. The chicken wasn't even there. Just a soft boiled egg swimming inside the soup.

When he came home from work, he knew I was up to something. After all, its our first anniversary. He sat down to have noodles with me and drunk up all the juice. He was smiling at me. But I couldn't bring myself to smile. I was really miserable. And then he said to me :

"Love, why so glum? I want to remember us in all the years to come that you are my wife, the one I married because she loves me and cares for me. Never mind if she can't cook very well. But she meant well, and tried her best."

by then, I was almost driven to tears. Free Emoticons. And then I said to him:

"Ben, I am such a failure. I promised to cook something you like to eat. But all I could do was instant noodles and an egg. I couldn't figure out how to cook the chicken till its tender like those Hainanese chicken style. I am sorry if this meal was not what you expected"

And then he said:

"Its you I need by my side, all the days of my life. And all the things you can think of and plan for me. Even though you couldn't do it properly. From this day forth, let us not celebrate our anniversary. But showed each other our love, attention and care every moment of our lives together. Its better that way than to wait for that one day to celebrate. Because we do not know what the future holds for us. We should love and care for each other every moment."

So here it is..we kept true to that promise. We are not celebrating in any way our Anniversary. Because we have been celebrating it every day, every moment, every minute of our lives together. In everything we do. In every breath we take. We tell each other of happy things Free Userbars and sad things and angry things we do everyday, the people we meet..the places we been in our day past.

This song "I Can't Smile Without You" By Barry Manilow was a song Benny use to sing to tease me, whenever I was trying to do something that was beyond me..mainly it was to cook something for him and I can't do it well.

May you have a Blessed life and wedded bliss with your better half..!