Jan 31, 2011

Happy Talk

Happy Talk sung by Junita Hall from the movie "South Pacific"

When I was a kid, I didn't have many dreams of things I wanna be or to do. I have no ambition. One day in my secondary school, our English teacher ask us to think about our ambitions and what we want to be when we grow up. She wants us to write an essay on it. I went home, disillusioned and I didn't know what I want to do. Because I saw myself as a failure. I couldn't do many things. Due to my medical history, I couldn't run or play like everyone does. I became an introvert and stayed at home all the time. I don't mingle with my peers, nor read the books they read or watch the movies they did.

So I went home, and told my dad about that difficult essay I had to write. I told him I didn't know where to start writing because I have no dream, no point of interest to start it off.

My dad told me :

Start talking about happy things, things you like to do. Forget about the essay for now. Its when you talk about happy things, you know what you want to do. Remember that song they use to play over the Radio ? Happy Talk ?..this is how it goes :

Happy talk, keep talkin' happy talk,
Talk about things you'd like to do.
You got to have a dream,
If you don't have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true?

This is the many reasons why I loved my dad. He belongs to the generations of fathers who are often the sole breadwinners in any family household. Who spent all their time working and feeding the family. Who is the figure head at home and delegates duties. But my dad was different. Besides all these, he played an important role in shaping me. In helping me to see what I am and what I can be if I try a little harder.

My dad told me once that I had to try all the jobs I could land myself in. So that I have an idea of what I can be, what I can't be. Because life itself is a journey. A journey of wonders. And it will only end when you stop breathing...or when your life has come to an end.

Fast forward to today...what I have become? What have I done? Many many many things...My dad will be 79 years old this August 2011. Yet he has not stop trying new things or learning new things. I know he has picked Banjo playing, and could read Hebrew and he is learning Greek now. My dad is an inspiration to me..that life goes on, dreams can be fulfilled if you start on it.

Many people envied me of my work, my shop and my classes. Some wrote to me and chatted with me online asking me to mentor them. While many thinks I am a super woman who seem to have time for everything. Others wondered where I found the energy to do so many things in a day.

My answer is always the same..."Happy Talk..talk about the things you like to do.." Its the thing that keeps me going, each day. I enjoy doing the things I did every day. That enough gives me boundless energy.

So start dreaming for a while...

Jan 29, 2011

Tiger, Tiger in the soup...

At home, we are not beer drinkers. So when I got a carton of Tiger Beer(part of a hamper stash from my supplier), I wanted to try to cook with it. In the past, I have used beer to cook with crabs, with beef and it works great. This time, I wanted to cook it with soup. I should have done this last year when it was the Year of the Tiger. But never late than ever, you have this anytime of the year. Especially so when the weather was cold in the last couple of days due to heavy down pour over the island.

I cook this using the simple ingredients I can find in my kitchen pantry. And also wanted to cook it with the pickled Garlic I have made. The girls loved it..said the soup was sweet and the beer flavour was mild. The soup smells like beer. The chicken was tender and had a hint of beer in it. I added sichuan peppercorns to mellow the overall taste of beer.

Here's my tried n tested recipe...

Tiger Beer Chicken Soup
Recipe by Gina Choong

Serves 2

2 chicken thigh, deboned, skin intact
1 pickled garlic
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp szechuan peppercorns
1 can of Tiger Beer(Cold from the fridge)

1. Slice garlic thinly.
2. Cut up chicken into thick chunks.
3. Heat up wok with 1 tbsp of cooking oil
4. Add garlic to saute till the sides turn slightly brown and crispy
5. Add chicken and stir fry over high heat for 3 mins.
6. Add beer, szechuan peppercorns, salt to cook till it boils.
7. Cover the wok and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.
8. Turn off fire, dish out and serve warm.

Great on its own..!

Pickled Garlic
Recipe by Gina Choong

10 pcs of China fragrant garlic, peeled
500ml red glutinous rice wine (if not, use a good Chinese Rice Wine)

1. Wash and peel away the skin of the garlic.
2. use a large glass jar, pour wine into it.
3. Add garlic into and make sure the wine covers all of it.
4. Cover and leave it to soak overnight in the fridge.
5. By the next day, its ready for use.

As long as the garlics are soak in the liquid, it keeps indefinitely.
This liquid can be reuse several times.

Do not throw away the wine liquid.

Jan 28, 2011

Chances are...

Chances Are sung by Vonda Shepherd and Robert Downing Jr from the drama serial "Ally McBeal"

I thought I would never be able to talk about this ever again. A blast from the past came back to me recently while talking to a friend about failed marriages and the break down in such.

Many many years ago, when I just started coming out to work after leaving school. I just finished my 'A' Levels exams and started work in a large multi-national company in Singapore. I was in IT or back then it was called EDP which stands for Electronic Data Processing. In today's terms, its just Computing..! I worked late shifts and because the company I was with was in retailing. We had to visit the stores by night after the store has closed for the day. I had to deal with the security and make friends with them so I don't have to surrender my IC name to them and fill up so many forms just to stay in the store after store hours.

In the midst of my work, I met him. I shall leave his name out here on my blog. And I shall just call him here as MrX or Mr X. He was an ex-cop with the Singpaore Police Force. He wasn't that old a man to retire but he decided to leave the Force while he was in his early 40s so he could still find work outside.

He runs and heads the Security Dept in our company. I had to get his approval in writing to be at different stores by night every week. Its thru this I met him and befriended him. MrX, by and large was a good man. Work-wise, he goes by the book and followed all the proper protocols in work. Off duties, he was fun to be around with. Jovial and funny, all around nice guy. All the ladies in the company liked him.

When the company opened a new store, he and I are like partners in crime..we were seen working side by side. He checks on store's security, I check on all the computers and security to prevent theft, staff pilferage, etc. Its inevitable that our friendship grew from just office colleagues to a new level.

He started dating me. At that time, I wasn't with anyone or have not met Sidney either. So I was young, single and AVAILABLE!! We went out on a group with the office crew..for lunch or dinner. And went on single dates with each other after work. He would see me safely home after each store's visit which is often after midnight.

But somehow, something wasn't right. I just couldn't put a finger to it..so I ask my mom. She said that even boyfriends came from God. That I should seek God and ask if this is the one for me. And so I did...prayed about it for days and weeks over it. At the same time, I enjoyed the time we spent together.

Then it had to happened...my supervisor (a guy) told me he saw MrX with a woman and a young child. They seemed to be quite close and he carried the kid for a while. And joked and laughed with the woman. They were seen in one of our retail stores. So one night I ask MrX about this.. he was taken aback and a bit shocked. And then he said :

"Oh...that's my sister with my nephew. They came to the store to buy things and needed my staff card for Staff Discount. My nephew is very close to me. Whenever I see him, I would carry him. "

And so I believed him. And I apologised to him for mistaking it as something else. After that incident, I stopped listening to such 'rumours' about him from my supervisor. Because at the same time, my supervisor had a crush on me too. So I would like to think that he is saying things to hurt us.

But because we didn't want the whole company to tease us, we kept our relationship private. Outside the office, after office hours. We would be seen leaving the office at different times and end up meeting each other at a central location. This went on for a few months.

Until one day I happened to be in the office early in the morning and got to hear 'things'. The office girls were in the store and they were all gossipping about MrX. So I went to eavesdrop on their conversation. In the midst of it all, I heard that he is applying for a 2 weeks leave from work, bringing his wife and son for a cruise to the Maldives. I was shocked with disbelief and I still wanted to think that people are saying things to hurt me.

So I started to do my own mini investigation. I ask around..and to my horror, I found out that MrX was indeed a married man with a loving wife and a young son aged 4 years old.

So I plucked up all my courage and confronted him. And then he said :

"I love my wife and my son. I would never leave them. My fling with you is just something I call a break from home and from work. I have never intended for us to be together for life. And you wouldn't have gone out with me if you haven't had a certain liking for me. And you are not a kid or under aged in any way. Should we end up in bed, its consensual.. and I didn't force you to do anything"

ok...a step backwards..What do you think I did?

I slapped him hard. And I remembered telling him this:

"You are a coward and a bastard! You cheated on your wife the moment you lust over another woman. You also cheated me of my feelings. How can you say you loved your wife when you are going out with me? I should have listen to my supervisor. I heard things about you and confronted you. Remember? If you are truthful to your wife and to me and you never intended to hurt me, you should have come clean about your marriage and your wife and son. But instead you told me a lie."

And I stopped seeing him soon after and I also apologised to my supervisor for not believing in him.

After this incident, I became extremely wary of men in general. I buried myself in my work and stopped going out or saw anyone that was of the opposite sex. And even if I did, it was just fun and play and I couldn't bring myself to have any feelings for any guy.

If I have not met Sidney, I would have not met Benny either. It was Sidney who brought some hope in me that Love is still a many Splendid thing.

And so now when I look back, I see that all these things happened for a reason. It happened so that I learnt. So that I know. My conscious is clear. Involving with a married man is the greatest taboo as a Christian. I surrendered to God the day I found out MrX was married. And I ask that God forgive me. It took me many years to come into grips with that. Because I was a staunch Christian and to be with a married man was not something I am proud of.

But God kept me safe and He kept me from making more mistakes. So when I met Sidney and later Benny, I had to be sure. But God has blessed me with Benny. Who kept his promise to me to be true and honest. I think I did great in God's eyes. Because He gave me Benny.

ps.. I was only 18 years old when I met MrX.

Jan 24, 2011

Master of All

You are my First, my Last, my Everything, sung by Barry White

Ok, this song has nothing to do with my post. But I really like this song! Especially when its performed in the drama serial :Ally McBeal in the unisex toilet in the law firm.

I have always had a jug of Master Sauce in my freezer. Its been in there for almost 12 years now. I have stayed here at Hougang Avenue 7 since 1995, and had this sauce in my old place. When we shifted homes, I was too worried about my sauce that all my other possessions which was packed and ready to go. So I left the whole jug of sauce to my Uncle Andrew. When we finally settled down in our current home, uncle Andrew didn't know he was to return the sauce, he use it for his cooking and food.

So I had to start cooking it again. There are many stories about the Master Sauce. And possibly a 1001 recipes too. Each Chef or cook will probably have his or her own version. I would like to think of it as the authentic Indian Garam Masala which Prashant used to tell me..of every household has their own blend of spices to make up the Garam Masala. So in every Chinese home, we should have our own blend of Master Sauce.

A Master sauce is created over a period of time. Just like good vintage wine, it can take years to reach the full flavour. Its often made of the simpliest of ingredients found in every Chinese kitchen :

Dark Soy Sauce
Light Soy Sauce
Cinnamon bark or sticks
Star Aniseeds

As to variations, like how much of each ingredients, greatly depends on what's on the menu for the day. What are you using it to cook with.

I started making my Master Sauce sometime late 1997, around the time I was pregnant with Melody, my youngest daughter. And marked the date of its 'creation'. Mainly just so that I remembered how long it would take me to make the sauce.

The Master sauce was cooked or boiled over the stove and each time I would add a whole duck or a whole chicken to cook. once the meat is cook, I will remove the sauce, scoop out a bowl or two for dipping or to add to the meat dish. The rest will be kept in a jug and straight into the freezer.

Each time I needed to cook a braised meat dish, I would take out this Master Sauce, thawed it. And add water, the spice herbs to boil and cook the meats again.

And then repeat the process each time. After 12 to 15 rounds of cooking it with duck or chicken or pork, you will get a good base...and thus the birth of the Master Sauce.

My mom used to tell me that the hawker who sells the Teochew Braised Duck guards this Master Sauce like gold. Its not a recipe that is to be sold to the highest bidder and should the old man passed away or retires, he would pass the sauce to the next generation. Even if the family decides not to sell this dish anymore, the sauce was to be kept in the family household kitchen and kept 'alive' by re heating it, using a portion each time for braised food cooking at home.

I hope the day will come for me to pass my Master Sauce, divided into 2 portions for both of my daughters. This is what I use for Master Sauce for :

You can find all the recipes at my KC Forum.

Jan 9, 2011

Been There, Done That!

I Left my Heart at San Francisco sung by Tony Bennett

So many times you have heard someone say : " Yes, I been there and done that!". I have always wanted to be like that..to say to someone that I have been there and done this or that. At least I tried my best to live my life to the fullest and the best I can be and without any regrets. That I have been there and done that. Even if it was unsuccessful, at least I can look back in wonder and be thankful that I was given the chance to do so.

Ever since I started this journey to teach outside my home, my days are filled with only work. I don't have time for family or for my friends. Which is something I treasured dearly. Despite having to run the retail shop, I was able to find time to sit back and relax sometimes and juggle time with my girls and Benny too.

The last straw came on Christmas Eve, a celebration we have at home with our extended family. I was tired and drained and my Uncle Daniel saw it through me. And he gave me sound advice on how I should tackle it. Even when I was having Roast turkey and baked salmon, I was thinking about work. My mind couldn't rest, though my body was weak, I couldn't sleep well at all.

But it is also thru this journey I found a soul mate which I thought was just my better half in many ways. Benny has always supported me in each and every way and every step I take in all my dealings with everyone outside. He knew me inside out and possibly more than I thought he would. He told me not to go ahead with the project to teach outside and I wouldn't listen to him.

I told him : "Let me try. If I succeed, I knew you will be credited for this. If I don't, at least I know I tried and I can leave the City of Regrets behind."

And true enough, I didn't succeed. I spent all my time struggling and making things work. I spent so much time pleasing everyone and in the end I neglected my shop which is the life line that holds us together.

Like a burden lifted off my shoulders, I decided to call it Quits with my project with Robinsons. Suddenly, my asthma just disappeared, my sleepless and unrestful sleep that eludes me for months left me too. I was able to sleep better each night at 12 midnight instead of 3 am or 4am each day.

I lost my fire and my 'fizz' in the things I do and I didn't realise it till Benny tells me. Above all, the last straw came when I couldn't be there when Melody needed me to go and buy shoes and stuff when school reopens early this week. Last school holidays which stretch from mid November to end December, I didn't spend a day with her just to go to the movies or just hung out with her to do our Mother and Daughter thing.

And she said to me "Mommy, it is okay. I know you are busy. I just go with Jie Jie..."

It tore me inside out. And I felt so upset about it. And when I look back, I realised that even in my most busy periods in 2009 with Christmas and New Year, I found time to spend with Melody at the movies, just to do window shopping or even just to eat junk food with her.

And she felt the pinch too..and a loving child I have, she followed me to one of my classes at Robinsons. The so called make up lost time we have is make up at Robinsons.

That's me...on the left and my dear Melody by my side...

And Natasha helped me by running the shop for me whenever I teach. My 2 daughters are the BEST. And I thank God for them all the time. In more ways than none, my priority in life evolves around them.

I will continue with my classes at home..and possibly at Robinsons too. As and when they needed me. Its not goodbye, but good bye for now and see you later again..

Jan 1, 2011

A Start of the New Year

Thank You Lord, (hymn) sung by Don Moen

My cousin, John now lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife Katherine and their 2 boys. He was someone very close to me, very close to my heart. Someone I loved since young. In every photo of past, there is always a boy next to me. And that will be John. Or Hwee Hwee as I affectionately call him. And he would call me by my Chinese name and that was Ting Ting. And everyone in our big extended family would sometimes tease us and call us a couple. When I move, he moves, when I sit, he sits. When I eat my dinner, he ate his. For years we grew up side by side. His parents doted on me as if I were their own child. We would play together and learn together.

But Hwee was very smart, intelligent and also untidy. I was on the other hand, spoilt silly at home. And also untidy. But the funny thing was that when I am with him, I am extremely different. I was always nit picking on things and I tidy up his room for him. Packed his bags and tidy up his books and neatly arranged everything in order.

Today, he wrote a note in FaceBook to reflect on the past year 2010. On the things he did, both personal and work wise. About himself as a husband to his wife, as a father to his 2 boys and as a son to his parents. He noted that he could have been better as a husband, father and son. And wished he could have done more now.

I replied to his note and said this to him :

"AMEN! I have lived my early childhood filled with happiness and joy because you were a part of my life. I have always wished to have a younger brother but God gave me you instead.

And though we are separated now by the miles between us, I have always looked out for you in more ways that you will know.

And in all my prayers for our family abroad, you have always been on my top 10 list of things to thank God for.

Your parents have blessed me tremenously over the years with their undivided attention and love for me. They never treat me as their niece but more like their very own.

We strived better each day, look back in wonder and continue to be better parents as the days takes us.

No one is born a parent, perfect. But God teaches us each day how we should be, how we can be.

A day at a time..."

The little toddler is me..and the baby sleeping/lying down is my cousin John. I was a year older than him. We were staying in the same household with my late maternal grandparents. Thus we became inseparable play mates for years. Even after our parents moved out, I would stayed with him over the weekends and return home every Sunday.

I wrote this post is to reflect too..of how we always wonder how best we can live our lives better or how we can be a better sibling, or child to our parents or a better spouse to our spouses or a better parent to our children. But over the years, I learn to not to look back and expect myself to be better next year. But instead I look back and count my blessings.

Of all the days that God has blessed me, my family here and abroad. Of keeping them safe and healthy. Despite all the tribulations and trials in life we go through, God never fails to heal us, to wipe each tear from our eyes, to touch our hearts and renew it. He never fails to remind us, how precious we are in His eyes, more precious then the sparrows or the flowers that grew along the side crack of the winding road.

And how blessed our lives have became...one day at a time.

May you start the new year with more blessings.So much more that you seemed to take forever to count. In ways unknown and unseen and the great beyond.

Have a wonderful year ahead..!

God Bless you..each and everyone of you.!