May 22, 2011

A Road Less Travelled

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow , old Christian Hymn

For many years, I self taught myself, many many skills. For many years, my dad reminded me that to take up the cross of God meant that He must call me to the field. Its not the same when you choose to leave your job or current status and go into the field to do missionary work.

All these years, I have been waiting and waiting and watching and waiting. For God to call me, to do His will. In the midst of it all, I did things I enjoy doing most. Loving the people around me. Learning to be like my mom. Who selflessly learn to cook and to bake and to feed others. She would give without expecting anything in return and often she would say "I want you to be happy." So to see a smile, means the world to her. For years I grew up in her household, and seeing the joy she had when she gives to others.

And I told myself that one day if I can be like someone important or special, I just want to be like my mom is to others.

In the process of learning to cook and to bake, I started to feed others. With the help of friends like Ray Khoo, he taught me many skills and reaching out to the less privileged. In the process I met many people..most of them in halfway houses, away from their homes with a past. It is thru this, I met Benny Seteo, now the boss of the chain of restaurants named 18 Chefs

This is Benny Se Teo, seen here at one of his restaurants.

I met Benny Se Teo (side note : he is not my Benny! LOL~) at Highpoint Halfway House at Lorong 1 Geylang. Ray brought me there to mingle with the ex-convicts. They had funding from the Government to run business. So they wanted to open a restaurant. In the initial days, we spent time talking about food, creating recipes, perfecting it. Benny Se Teo was to be the Head Chef and to create and design new dishes for the restaurant. My job was purely just to taste his food, be a critic and give him pointers on how to improve and with Ray, we taught them various skills for the restaurant.

The restaurant was named Goshen. The region of Goshen is located in northeastern Egypt, in the The Delta of the Nile River, where it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The Sinai Peninsula is just to the east. To the south are the famous Pyramids, and the Valley of The Kings, where many Mummies have been discovered.

Why Goshen? I would questioned Ray. He says Goshen is a desert area, a place where no crops will grow. But God made good of it and all who dwell there bring forth goodness for generations to come. A restaurant named Goshen meant that our brothers in Christ(ex convicts) are left to fend and make good of the skills they learn and bring wealth to themselves and happiness for all.

When I first started working and helping out at Goshen Restaurant, my mom feared for my safety. Those who volunteered, are men. No woman dared to work there. Mainly because these folks are ex-convicts. Many had a past..some went in and out of prison several periods in their lives.

But Ray taught me to look beyond and past that. He taught me to love them. And when you love them, all the goodness and blessings you get from God comes out, in turn, you are able to accept them with all their problems and all their insecurities. And care for them as much as you would with others.

It is this road I walked on, and travelled on it for those years that made me realised that my calling from God was to do this. To help these folks get back on track. It is through the universal language of LOVE evolves into food that my calling from God meant for me to help others.

And at the same time fulfilled my dream of what my mom had always been doing. Loving and caring for others, strangers and all.

My post today talks about a Road Less Travelled. Or uncharted waters. Something not planned, some roads you take in life that seems weary and long winded. Surrounded by harsh forest or frightful weathers. But if you travel on this road, God walks with you daily. He holds your hand and silently paces with you, by your side. As you stumbled each day, He picks you up and He clears that rock or pebble in your path so your next step is smoother.

And as you walk each day, you learnt to look up ahead. And if you see that rock or pebble ahead of you, you know what to do. You either clear it and if its deeply lodged into the ground, you learnt to hop over it. So in life, it is the same. Some things just comes smack into you, others block your path. And each day you learn to cope and each day the road that was less travelled becomes worn and leaving foot prints..of all the days you walk on it. And all your footprints left on it reminding you of your first step, and of your second step. It shows how you hop over a stone, kick that pebble or move that rock.

And the next time you become more bold and walk another mile for that winding, dark road..pucked up with courage and with God still holding your hand, you walk that new road, more boldly, wearing a smile on your face.

This is not a post to be boastful of the many journeys I made in my life. But to share with you and to encourage you that in life, we all must walk on one road that is less travelled and as we walk, we learn. And as we learn, we are smarter and better each time. No one is born into this world knowing what is next. But if you have God by your side, you are rest assured who holds your Tomorrows..and the path that leads you each day.


May 15, 2011

Amazing Grace : Milestones with Christ

Amazing Grace (English version) sung by Gaither Vocal Band

I know I have talked about this before and hidden in bits and pieces of past blog entries here. But I wanted to share a bit more about this wonderful grace that God gives to us. And the milestones I have gone thru since birth with Christ.

From as far as I can remember, I knew for a long time, my life was created by God. He could have taken it back from my parents when I was a baby, but He chose to give it to them to keep and to nurture and to grow. To be in His likeness, in every way my parents could.

I was born with many medical problems. At the tender age of 6 months old, I went for my first surgery. To remove a diseased bone from my right rib cage. My dad told me that I spent several weeks in the hospital and my mom visited me at the hospital every day. When I was discharged, my mom hated hospitals and the smell of disinfectant. For some unknown reason, I grew up hating the smell of Dettol too.

When I was old enough to stand on my 2 feet, I started falling even just by walking. My mom would scold me if I run. In a way, that studded my growth, and I became slow in everything I do. I was never allow to run in the field or play vigorous sport of any kind. I never play tennis or basket ball or even the simple child's game of "catching". I can walk and suddenly my knees will just give way and I would fall.

As a child, my Uncle David would pick me up from school..on his back. He would carried me home. My relationship with Uncle David was extremely closed. I always see him as Big Brother than an uncle.

And then it happened when I was 4 years old. I went to the toilet at night, came out and just fell and hit the corners of the cabinet. That causes a deep cut on my forehead..just above my right eye. I bled non stop ...I was dressed in a white sleeping gown which my mom had painstakingly sewn by hand for me. I remembered my dress was in red..covered in blood. My dad rushed me to the hospital. And after that, my life changed completely.

The doctors back then said I lost alot of blood, and not enough oxygen in my brain, so my brain wasn't 'functioning' at full steam. It meant that I would become forgetful and I cannot remember short term things. Like studying for spelling or trying to remember a date or short term event.

Who would ever thought of learning Phonics back in the early 1960s? Most unheard of back then. My dad took up Phonics on his own and he taught me to read and spell using the phonics way. That requires no memory on my part and no extra brain work to do.

All my years in Primary school in Singapore, I spent hiding in my classroom. I cannot go for PE(Physical Education), no jumping of hoops, no running, no sports. I stood and watch from the window from my classroom where all my class mates run and play in the open field. I lead a quiet life you might say. I took on new hobbies..hobbies that doesn't require me to run or be in sports. I learn to draw, to colour, to paint. And I took up piano lessons too. I spent all my school holidays with my dad, with my cousin John. My dad would take me to watch Disney's animated movies or to the travelling circus(yes, Singapore used to have that too..!).

By the time I was in Secondary school, a new medical 'illness' plaque me. I had the lazy eye or squint eyes. And I had to go for surgery at age 14 years, or Secondary 2.

When I left secondary school and studied Pre U, my knee finally call it quits on me. I went for a major surgery on my left knee. That removed cartilage under the knee cap. It meant a life time of no vigorous exercise or movement on my knees. If I had a fall and I fell on my left side, I was to go for X Rays immediately to see the damage internally. That was also the reason I quit my job as MIS Manager with Batey Ads Singapore. An advertising agency in Singapore. I have over exert myself in the 3.5 years working for them. I quit to stay at home to nurse my knee. The doctor said "surgery or home therapy". Surgery is not a cure, just prolonged the expectancy of the knee. Home therapy is just slow and painful physiotherapy on my leg muscles.

When I left Batey, I couldn't even walk properly. That was how severe it got. I didn't quit to start Kitchen Capers or go into the culinary field. I did that out of boredom. After spending 25 years working non stop, suddenly I had nothing to do. And I haven't reach my retirement age yet as my girls are still young and school going age. I needed to work and have money for things.

Then in November 2007, I went for surgery for Appendicitis. 2 months later, I was in the hospital again. For hernia(from my appendicitis). Thank God for friends, my students who kept me safe and prayed for me when I was in the hospital. And the doctor who operated on me told me more unhappy news...

Due to my many health issues, he told me to stop taking a few food ingredients. Most of these are preservatives used in food preparation and all chemicals associated with baking. And I also found that I was allergic to artificial colouring used in colouring food. I would wheeze and had shortness of breath.

If you have met me in person, visiting me at my shop, you may think I looked healthy. But beneath all that, I am quite "unhealthy".

I had so many surgeries done on my body, the nerve endings on my body have been severed. I had no 'feelings' or 'sensations' of pain or heat if I am hurt until someone tells me..Should I stand next to a fire stove and the fire catches on my clothes, I won't be able to know..the nerve endings near my tummy area has been 'cut'.

Yet everyday, my life is a testimony. A living testimony that God decides when, and how and what.

My dad told me the day I accepted Christ as my personal Saviour that I am a Living Testimony for God. That whatever I do or say, testifies that God still believes that the world should go on. And that lives out there are still worth gathering in His name and tired souls and broken hearts are still worth mending.

If you noticed..maybe now you will, the next time you see me at my shop, I am actually walking on a limp. My left knee is still swollen and my right tummy area has a "pouch". As I live each day with the extras, my life with Christ remains strong and steadfast. Despite all my body offers to me, I am still in awe of Christ and all He has provided me.


May 4, 2011

I love you, Because

I love you Because sung by the late Jim Reeves

I had a private cooking class last Wednesday. My student is a young wife. Newly married and settled into her first nuptial home with her hubby, she wanted to learn to cook for her hubby and also for her family. She told me she grew up on her maid's cooking. Despite being of Teochew dialect, she didn't know much about the cuisine that goes with it. Nor have any family heirloom recipe stashed away any where in her maternal home. Her parents went to work, and left her at home with the maid. The maid took care of the household, cleaning, washing and preparing meals 3x a day.

Well, to be frank, she was one of the many young wives I used to teach cooking to. So many similar stories I have heard of them never knowing their roots and some never got to know what binds them to a family. There never seems to be any family bonding.

I shared with her my own story. How my mom raised me. And I grew up on home cooked food my mom prepared for the family. My mom taught me many skills. May not be all food and cooking related. But she told me about our heritage, our culture and what it means to be Chinese. Despite being Christian, she says we must never forget our roots, though anti-Christ it may seem, as long as we follow the Bible teachings, lived by it, practiced what the Bible says, we just observe our heritage, that was good enough.

My mom says that when you travel to faraway lands, your skin colour is no longer something that proves to others your heritage or culture. Its what that is within you.

So whenever I teach cooking, and especially with cooking, I shared a bit of our Chinese culture, its deep rooted heritage to my students. The very things that made us Chinese. A cut from the rest of the other races.

But it is also love that binds us together. I shared with her many of my family's recipes, re-created for our modern home. With 'advance' or more "user friendly" kitchen utensils. But I also taught her the old way of how things are done and why it is done that way, and moving forward to new age and time.

Since she was teochew, and Benny was also Teochew, I decided to teach her to cook a traditional Teochew dish..the humble Teochew Bak Kut Teh or Pork Ribs Soup.

She asked me "I thought its black in colour, the soup I mean. Why is this soup cleared?"

I told her "the Black soup was cooked with chinese herbs and that's Hokkien. The Teochew version was clear soup cooked with the most minimal ingredients. So you get to taste the sweetness from the bones of the pork."

Here's the recipe to share with all. Something I learnt just by listening to my uncle Freddy's rave about the Teochew Bak Kut Teh soup.

Teochew Bak Kut Teh (Pork Ribs Soup)
Recipe By Gina Choong

1 kg pork ribs(ask the butcher for soft bone, chopped into smaller pieces)
5 pcs of garlic cloves, smash to break it open, retain the 'skin'.
1.5 tbsp white peppercorns
salt to taste
2 litres of water

1. Heat up water in a large casserole pot(claypot)
2. Add garlic, peppercorns and pork to cook for 5 mins over high heat.
3. Once it starts boiling(bubbling), lower the heat, cover the pot to cook over low heat for 45 minutes.
4. If the water evaporates till half the pot, just add water to refill.
5. Add salt to taste.
6. Serve hot with freshly sliced chilli and some soya sauce.

A traditional dish served with just plain warmed rice. Benny's favourite, all the time. Now its also our girl's favourite soup dish. Simple and yet refreshing.

May 2, 2011

Something Stupid, Something Good

Something Stupid, sung by actress Nicole Kidman and song artiste Robbie Williams

Yesterday we close the shop at 7pm, instead of 8:30pm. So that we could go and have dinner with the family..Benny's side of the family. At a restaurant near our shop and also near my mother in law's home. It was May 1st, her birthday. She's either 87 or 89. How come I didn't know? No candles on the birthday cake. And the siblings were 'fighting' over what number to say when they lit the candle. One say "Chinese birthday is plus 2", the other say we live in the real world, it should be minus two.. And I thought last year she was 87?? oh well, like they say "its the thought that counts.." To come together as a family, extended with all her 4 children, their spouses, kids in toll, to celebrate it with her, that's important.

This year I decided to make a special cake for her..Vegetarian all the way. No eggs, no flour, just sugar and water and jelly powder..yes, a jelly cake. It didn't have to be big, its just for her. I just assumed that she would like it. Our girls bought a stalk of a red flower for her. And it seems that our girls are the only grandchildren who got her something.

This is what I made on Saturday , fussing over it.

To be frank, the center was supposed to be a red flower jelly. During the pouring of warm jelly into the layers, the flower melted and smudged/fused into the jelly. When its done, I realised the top was just a smudgy red spot. So I have to improvised quickly. I use a round fluted cutter and press into the center at the top. See this photo of it...see how ugly it was?? =((

And luckily I have a few cans of fruit cocktail at I opened one, picked out the peaches, grapes and cherries and put it into the hole ... and viola! a new jelly cake is made. O:)

When I presented her the cake, and told her it was a jelly cake, she said out loud :

"we have this for cake cutting later, I don't want the other cake..!"

Benny was seated next to his mom and he told her "She made this for you, to bring home and enjoy. This is not a real birthday cake, we should cut the one the others bought for you.."

And she told me "Gina, I like jelly cake. I am happy"

That certainly made my day..and it ended very well for me.

After the dinner, we drove to her home and did the usual photo taking, candle blowing, cake cutting, birthday song singing, etc. I hid the jelly cake into the fridge.

We left after the cake was served as it was getting late. On the way home, Benny told me that our day ended with so many blessings from God. Our sales shot beyond our target last night despite closing an hour and a half earlier. And we got to have dinner with his mom and how much he appreciated what I did, the littliest effort I tried without having a maid at home to help me to wash, clean up etc.

I overheard him talking to his mom(pretended not to hear!) he told her "Gina is very tired, very worn out. She cannot visit you like she used to have. She does everything herself, mans the store, run the household. And we have no maid. And she still finds time to do little things here and there. So I could rest and sleep very well each night. Not having to worry about things. She kept everything intact. And gave me nothing to think about, nothing to worry"

My mother in law smiled..and she looked at me and said "Gina, le chin ho, aye hiow jia ko kay"..This is my anyhow do pinyin of her teochew words. It means "Gina, you are good, you know how to run the house".

Benny is my mother in law's favourite son. For years, she used to wonder if I could keep the house together and take over her duties to take care of her precious son. Because Benny used to tell her I grew up a spoilt kid, never had to do anything at home.

May 1st, ,2011...The Matriarch says I passed with flying colours :x