Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chinese New Year visiting

Chinese New Year celebrations last 15 days. Each year, it is customary that one visits friends and relatives during Chinese New Year. Upon arrival at the friends' / relatives' homes, everyone would give lunar new year greetings to each other. In the old days, the visitor would usually bring two Mandarin oranges to the home of the person whom he is visiting, to wish the person "good luck". Nowadays, a bag of two Mandarin oranges has evolved into a bag of lunar new year goodies (which may or may not include the two Mandarin oranges). It is also customary for the recipient of the goodie bag / Mandarin oranges to give something back as well. As such, one often goes to a friend's / relative's home with a goodie bag and leaves with another goodie bag!

Today, Da and I had arranged to visit the home of the Three Musketeers in the evening. The last we met them was before Chinese New Year, when they came over to our home for dinner.

As Da had to work today, we arranged to meet at one of our regular haunts for lunch, that is, People's Park Centre (the other regular haunt being one of the Hainanese coffee shops located at Purvis Street). The photograph of People's Park Centre was taken opposite the shopping mall. I was standing outside the entrance to Hotel 81 (a budget hotel) when I took the photograph today. Fortunately, many people are still in the holiday mood and the road was not very busy. As such, I was able to take a clear photograph of the shopping mall in between traffic.

People's Park Centre is a very old shopping mall located at Eu Tong Sen Street in Chinatown. It is a mixed development. The lower levels are shops whereas the upper levels are offices and apartments. I had a classmate (猫) when I was in Junior College (that is, Grades 11 and 12) whose aunt owned a residential unit in People's Park Centre. A group of us had ever visited the aunt's unit when we were in school. I recall that her unit was very large.

Da and I decided to eat something different for lunch today. We went to the food court at People's Park Centre that we often patronise. However, we decided to order food from the vegetarian stall today. (Hi Tuayi, I think that you will like the food sold at this stall. There is minimal use of gluten and most of the dishes are cooked using vegetables or bean products, eg. tau hu, tau kee, tau pok, etc.)

The stall offers you a choice of steamed white rice, various types of fried noodles and organic brown rice. Da and I decided to order the organic brown rice, which complemented the ingredients very well.

Each order of food comes with a complimentary bowl of soup. Today, the soup comprised beans, carrots and turnip.

After a very satisfying lunch, we decided to walk around Chinatown. The streets and shops were surprisingly not very crowded. Perhaps many people are out visiting relatives and friends for Chinese New Year.

As we walked past Smith Street, we heard the sound of a lion dance performance nearby. Following the direction of the sound, we managed to watch a lion dance performance outside one of the souvenir shops located at Smith Street. It is customary for Chinese businessmen to arrange for a lion dance performance outside their shop during Chinese New Year as it is believed to bring "good business" to the shop.

One of the highlights of the lion dance performance is when the "lion" will peel some Mandarin oranges and arrange the oranges in a certain design on the floor. You will note from the photograph below that the oranges have been arranged in a certain manner to form Chinese characters. In Muar, Malaysia (the hometown of my mother), the oranges are often arranged in an abstract manner to represent 4 digits and you are supposed to decipher what the 4 digits are so that you can place a "4D" bet (lottery) at the betting house.

Smith Street is closed to traffic. There are many souvenir shops along the street. There are also many road-side stalls lining both sides of the street selling souvenirs. As Da and I reached the end of the street, we turned right at South Bridge Road and continued our way. Our intention was to walk towards Da's office at Tanjong Pagar area where our car was parked.

We came across many interesting buildings along South Bridge Road. Near an Indian temple is a very old building with the words "Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited, South Branch" carved into the wall. The building does not seem to be used as a bank now. Perhaps in the past it was a branch of the bank.

We also saw an outlet of Eu Ean Sang, a medical hall chain. Other than the shop selling Chinese medical products, this outlet also has a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic.

Next to Sago Lane is a large Chinese temple that is a tourist attraction. Sago Lane used to be known as "death street". In the past, there used to be houses located along this street that provided a service similar to that of a hospice. Naturally, as it was in the early 20th century, there were not much medical services at such "death houses". As it was believed that it was not auspicious to die in one's home (as it would bring "bad luck" to the surviving family members), people who were dying would go to such "death houses" to live out their dying days. Next to such "death houses" were funeral parlours.

Opposite the Chinese temple is a hawker centre known as "Maxwell Food Centre". There is a stall at this food centre that sells delicious fish soup that is cooked with evaporated milk.

Da and I crossed the road opposite Maxwell Food Centre and arrived at Jinricksha Station.

Before the introduction of taxis, one of the popular modes of transport in Singapore in the early 20th century was that of rickshaws. The Jinricksha Station served as a depot where the rickshaw drivers would take a rest.

Ah! We had finally arrived at Tanjong Pagar Road. As the weather was very good, it was very likely that Da and I would be able to walk all the way to his office today.

Along Tanjong Pagar Road are many bridal boutiques. It is almost impossible to walk along the road without a boutique staff approaching you to recommend one of their bridal packages. Even when you tell them that you are already married, they would recommend their "wedding anniversary package". They are certainly very enterprising!

Da and I saw a building that had Chinese opera masks displayed outside the building. How interesting!

Finally! The destination was in sight. We reached Tras Street. You can see Da's office building in the background in the photograph below.

We collected our car and made our way to the home of the Three Musketeers. Their home was decked in festive cheer. Other than the usual lunar new year greetings, we were surprised when 3-year-old Nining held out her hand to us for a handshake. She never ceases to amaze us.

We had a delicious steamboat dinner. You can see quite a lot of mushrooms in the photograph below because Nining loves mushrooms.

After dinner, we sat down to watch "The Haunted Mansion" on television, starting Eddie Murphy. This reminds me of the time when I visited the "The Haunted Mansion" attraction at Disneyland years ago. At the attraction, if you were to look into the mirror, you can see funny looking creatures smiling back at you. Boo!

Therapy time! Da was given a shoulder massage by ET. Ouch! Ouch!

After Supercute gave me a shoulder massage, Nining demonstrated how to do stretches. Firstly, sit on the floor in the posture that you see in the photograph below.

Holding the same leg posture, bend forward as low as you can. In the process, you will stretch your back muscles.

No Chinese New Year gathering would be complete without.... mahjong! I joined SY, Tau Suan and Nining for a few rounds of this very exciting game.

What goes with a hot steaming cup of cafe latte? A sinful doughnut, of course.....

I sampled a pineapple tart that was home-made by an Indonesian lady. The pastry melted in my mouth. Delicious! May I have the recipe, please?

SY had bought some strawberries from the supermarket yesterday and we shared a bowl of cold and sweet strawberries. (Hi Aunt Peh, this brings back memories of your version of strawberry shortcake that you made at your friend's home when my aunt AN, my cousin PL and I visited you in the United States of America in 1992.)

Good food, great company... this is the life!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Melting Moments

One of the goodies that I brought to Muar, Malaysia for Chinese New Year this year is "Melting Moments". No, it is not ice-cream. It is a type of cookie that is supposed to melt in your mouth.

The beauty of this cookie is that it does not contain eggs. As such, if you generally avoid eating cookies because they tend to contain butter and eggs, you may want to try making this cookie. If you do not like the taste of butter, you can substitute with margarine or vegetable shortening although cookie lovers will tell you that mouth-watering cookies are made using butter. To each his own....


glace cherries
300g self-raising flour
300g butter (softened)
150g icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp ground almond
1 pkt dessicated coconut


1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.

2. Cut the glace cherries into small pieces.

3. Sift the self-raising flour. Set aside.

4. Cream the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy.

5. Add the vanilla essence and ground almond to the butter and sugar. Mix well.

6. Fold in the flour using a wooden spatula and stir until the flour is evenly mixed.

7. Scoop a teaspoonful of cookie dough and roll into a ball. Toss each ball into dessicated coconut.

8. Flatten each cookie slightly using your palm and place the cookie onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.

9. Place a piece of cherry on top of each cookie.

10. Bake at 180 degrees celsius for 15 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown.

11. Let the cookies cool thoroughly before storing in an air-tight container.


1. You can substitute icing sugar with castor sugar.

2. You can substitute ground almond with ground peanuts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

peanut butter cookies

I love to eat peanut butter, especially the type that comes with chunky pieces of chopped peanuts. However, Da is not fond of peanut butter. As such, we try not to buy peanut butter because I am the only one who ends up eating the peanut butter and it takes me quite a long time to finish a small bottle.

I have since found a way to "have my cake and eat it"! So as not to miss out on my chunky peanut butter, some of the peanut butter gets spread onto bread or crackers. The rest of the peanut butter is used to make peanut butter cookies.

If you are keen on making peanut butter cookies, I would recommend that you use icing sugar instead of castor sugar or brown sugar. The inclusion of icing sugar gives the cookie a very fine texture and the cookie tends to melt in your mouth. Ooh-la-la! If, however, you would prefer that the cookie be more firm, then by all means, use castor sugar or brown sugar instead of icing sugar. At the end of the day, it is all about personal preference.


2 1/4 cups plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter (softened)
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup ground peanut
2 cups chunky peanut butter
1 cup chopped peanuts


1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.

2. Sift the plain flour and bicarbonate of soda. Add the salt and mix well.

3. Cream the butter, icing sugar and vanilla essence till light and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs, 1 at a time and beat well.

5. Add the ground cinnamon, ground peanut, peanut butter and chopped peanuts and mix well.

6. Fold in the flour and salt mixture.

7. Drop by teaspoonful onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.

8. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

9. Cool the cookies thoroughly before storing in an air-tight container.


If you prefer that the cookies have a firmer texture:-

(a) instead of 2 1/4 cups of plain flour, use 2 cups of plain flour and 1/4 cup of corn flour; and

(b) instead of 1 1/2 cups of icing sugar, use 1/2 cup of castor sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

恭喜发财, 紅包拿来

To my dearest family and Malaysian relatives,

Happy Lunar New Year 2009!

I wish to give a big hug and word of thanks to my wonderful cousin, TK, who took most of the photographs that you see in this post and in the attached slide show at the bottom of this post, using my digital camera (as the womenfolk were busy in the kitchen at my maternal grandmother's home, cooking for the hungry men!). Thanks, dude!

Before we left for Malaysia, my family had a quick breakfast at the Haig Road hawker centre in Singapore. There is a stall at this hawker centre that sells vegetarian food. You can order a plate of vegetarian noodles or you can order the vegetarian ingredients on their own (in whole pieces).

My sister-in-law (MF) and Da decided to order a plate each of fried carrot cake instead. Whilst the fried carrot cake was delicious, it cannot compare (taste-wise) with the one sold near my maternal grandmother's home in Muar, Malaysia. Actually, the dish is made of white radish instead of carrots.

The irony of the matter is that it is easier to get to Muar, Malaysia from my mother's home in Singapore than it is to get to certain places within Singapore itself! Once you get onto the East Coast Parkway (ECP), drive straight in the direction of Tuas until you reach the Tuas customs checkpoint. After you have cleared the Tuas customs checkpoint, continue driving straight across the 2nd Link until you reach the Malaysian customs checkpoint. Once you have cleared the Malaysian customs checkpoint, simply drive straight along the North-South highway until you see the Ayer Hitam exit. When you turn at the exit and go pass the toll house, make a left turn and continue driving straight until you reach Batu Pahat. At Batu Pahat, turn right at the traffic junction where you see a huge mosque (you cannot miss it) and continue driving straight until you reach Parit Jawa. Make a left turn at the traffic light at Parit Jawa and continue driving until you reach the roundabout located just outside my maternal grandmother's home. See? Easy as A-B-C. How many of you have made more left turns and right turns in trying to get to certain locations within Singapore? (If you miss the left turn at the traffic light at Parit Jawa and drive straight instead, no worries because you will still end up near my grandmother's home except that you will arrive at the 2nd roundabout instead of the roundabout nearest her home. There are only 3 roundabouts in Muar town.)

My family decided to drive to Muar, Malaysia in 2 batches. My mother, my brother (LB), my sister-in-law (MF), Da and I went in the 1st batch in the morning. My brother (LG) and his girlfriend (ZT) would arrive later in the day as LG had to cook an early dinner first for his precious "boy-boy" (yes, the Jack Russell Terrier whose photographs appear everywhere in my blog!).

At Ayer Hitam, we decided to take a coffee break. Da parked in front of a coffee shop and the five of us shared 2 gigantic steamed buns (commonly known as "big pau"). Inside the buns are braised chicken fillet and hard boiled egg.

This Chinese New Year is truly a season of abundance. There was endless food and plenty of laughter, fun and bonding. It is also a season of thanksgiving - UV and UR volunteered at the temple where my maternal grandmother's tablet is placed.

As per past tradition, my grandmother's sisters (my 4th grandaunt, 6th grandaunt and 7th grandaunt) stayed over at my grandmother's home during Chinese New Year.

Muar is not a very big town. There are several roads in the main town area that have names but are often referred to by the locals as "First Street", "Second Street", etc. The Fourth Street is also known as "Glutton Street" because there are many coffee shops and road-side stalls located along this street. One of the specialities is that of the fish ball noodles. Unlike fish ball noodles sold in Singapore, the dry noodles are mixed with black sauce instead of tomato sauce. The chilli sauce (which is home-made) is served separately.

Tuayi had ordered "tan san" (which is a fried snack made from flour and preserved red beancurd) to make a vegetarian "yee sang". Traditionally, "yee sang" (fish salad) is a salad comprising shredded raw vegetables mixed with raw fish (eg. salmon), ground peanuts and plum sauce. However, as Tuayi is a vegetarian, she would usually make a vegetarian version of "yee sang" during Chinese New Year. In addition to adding ground peanuts, she will also add "tan san".

Nowadays, my relatives celebrate the reunion dinner (held on the Eve of Chinese New Year) by having a steamboat dinner. This year, AJ (the wife of UJ) demonstrated her labour of love by marinating chicken drumstick with curry powder. UJ had made a passing remark to AJ to the effect of "Is there only steamboat for reunion dinner this year?" and the dear lady decided to marinate and fry chicken drumstick to keep her darling happy.

AJ also demonstrated her cooking skills by preparing the ingredients for "shui gao" (a type of meat dumpling wrapped in wanton skin which can be deep fried or added to soup). She had learned how to make "shui gao" from AH (wife of UT).

The job of filling the wanton skin with the marinated ingredients fell to AJ's angels, PY and PW.

Knowing how hot and humid it can be during Chinese New Year, Tuayi cooked a lovely hot and sweet dessert comprising, inter alia, honey dates, dried longan, white fungus, ginko nuts, etc. It was very refreshing indeed!

I brought along a salad that I had prepared. I wanted to bring the salad dressing that Da had concocted using apple cider vinegar, olive oil, honey, freshly squeezed lemon juice, Italian herbs, sugar and freshly ground mixed peppercorn but we were concerned that the salad dressing would spill out during the car journey.

GPL had given me several rolls of home-made spring roll, so I brought some to share with my relatives. As there is no oven in Muar, Tuayi decided to deep fry the spring rolls instead. Delicious, as always! (Hi GPL, my Muar relatives remember you as the guy who asked for the "Three Elephant" brand of sauce.)

A big "thank you" to my maternal grandmother for sharing with me her recipe for "Zi Zhoh" (sweet potato kueh). As this recipe originates from people who came from China, it is not common to find "Zi Zhoh" sold commercially. While I remember seeing a stall at a hawker centre several years ago that sold something similar, the difference is that the commercially sold version of this kueh tends to contain a lot of flour, thereby making the kueh quite hard. Also, the stall holders tend to use the cheaper type of sweet potato which is not as sweet. Not only does my grandmother's recipe involve the use of glutinous rice flour (instead of plain flour), the proportion of flour to sweet potato is 5 part sweet potato to 1 part flour. This year, I bought 5 kg worth of sweet potato to make the "Zi Zhoh".

No Chinese New Year would be complete without Chinese New Year cookies! In addition to the cookies that my relative had brought to my grandmother's home, I had baked 6 types of cookies for my relatives to enjoy this year:-
(a) very chocolatey chocolate chip cookies
(b) nestum and oat cookies
(c) chewy cheese cookies
(d) apricot cookies
(e) peanut butter cookies
(f) melting moments

I also baked a nutty brownie the night before we left for Muar and brought the brownie to Muar for everyone to share.

My mother brought a very dense fruit pudding which Tuayi steamed to perfection for one and all to enjoy.

UJ concocted his specialty - mixed dessert. It is a mixture of canned fruits. This year, we also added a multi-layered and multi-coloured agar-agar that MIL gave Da and me.

The highlight of the reunion dinner was, of course, the steamboat. This year, AJ made a soup base comprising chicken (with the bones) and turnip. It was an interesting combination and made the soup very sweet. A big thanks to my cousin (DL) for cooking the steamboat ingredients.

This year, the youngsters were delegated by UT to toss the "yee sang" on behalf of everyone.

In Malaysia, it is common to see firecrackers being lit during Chinese New Year.

"Tung hoon" (that is, glass noodles) is usually cooked in soup. However, Tuayi fried the "tung hoon" with tom yam paste and a lot of vegetables. It was so delicious that I could not resist a second helping of the noodles. The secret to a good tom yum dish is sugar. You need to add sugar to balance the sourish taste of tom yum.

It is a tradition amongst my relatives that "mee sua" (longevity noodles) will be eaten for breakfast on the first day of Chinese New Year. The soup base cooked using chicken bones. The "mee sua" is eaten with chicken meat (cooked in the soup) and hard boiled eggs.

There was a sudden commotion in the kitchen (which is located at the back of the house) in the morning of the first day of Chinese New Year. While my brother (LB) was washing the dishes, he saw a huge creature (see photograph below) slowly crawling past the back of my grandmother's home without a care in the world. According to ASN (I could not use "AJ" as her acronym as it would be the same as "AJ", the wife of UJ... *grin*), it is common to see such creatures (and even snakes) crawling at the back of the house.

My cousin (PY) demonstrated her "pineapple eye removal skills" for the benefit of my digital camera.

On saturday, 24 January 2009, my mother had requested that Da and I buy the rich fruit cake from Don's pie to bring to Muar, Malaysia as she knows that it is a favourite of my cousin (HL).

How does one pass the time during Chinese New Year? Play mahjong, of course! All my mother's relatives are experts at playing mahjong. I have to admit that Da's and my mahjong skills are the worst of the lot. During Chinese New Year, my relatives will usually play mahjong overnight.

There are many versions of achar (pickled vegetables). One of my favourites is Tuayi's version, which comprises cucumber, pineapple, chilli padi, freshly squeezed lime juice and brown sugar. AJ's version is similar but includes big yellow onions. Another version that I like is AH's version (may I have the recipe, please, AH?).

If there is one thing that you can be sure when you are at my grandmother's home in Muar during Chinese New Year, it is that you will never go hungry. The supply of food seems to be endless! Actually, the eating is also non-stop!

Tuayi and my cousin (HL) demonstrated their liking for Japanese food by making a batter for tempura and frying mushroom tempura. The batter comprises plain flour, corn flour, water and Italian herbs (of your choice). (Did I miss out any ingredient, girl?) It is important that the enough water is added to give the batter a soft flowing consistency.

Other than the sound of mahjong, the other thing that you tend to hear all day is the sound of text messages being received on the mobile phone. As each of us carries a mobile phone and it is traditional to send greetings via text messages during Chinese New Year, you can imagine the "music" that is heard every now and then as text messages are sent and received.

It is also common to have a meal at one of the few Chinese restaurants in Muar. One of my relatives' favourite is "Chuan Tin Restaurant", located near my grandmother's home. This year, the deep fried yam ring was topped with big prawns instead of vegetables.

Another Muar specialty is that of the fried "mee sua".

Some of us prefer the fried "lor mee", which tastes similar to that of the "Kuala Lumpur hokkien mee".

The sierviettes supplied by the restaurant came in hand for my cousin (PW) to demonstrate her origami-making skills.

In the old days, the shops tend to be closed during Chinese New Year as this is the only time of rest for the shop owners. Nowadays, some shops and most of the food outlets are open for business during Chinese New Year. In more recent years, it has become a yearly tradition for AJ, PY, PW, Da and I ("the Gang of Five") to go the "Glutton Street" for breakfast on the second day of Chinese New Year. This year, we decided to be more healthy and order porridge.

One should end a meal on a sweet note, so we shared some chicken Seremban siew pau that I bought.

Another tradition that the Gang of Five has developed in recent years is to patronise Fung Seng Confectionery on the second day of Chinese New Year.

Most people would do their shopping for new clothes and new shoes before Chinese New Year. However, the Gang of Five would patronise the Hoover Shoe Store on the second day of Chinese New Year.

This year, we came across a new shoe shop where I bought a pair of black slip-on PU leather shoes for work. The shop owner was confident that when I have worn the shoes, I will be so pleased with the quality of his shoes that I will patronise his shop again.

Another popular destination for tourists in Muar is that of Yong Sheng confectionery. All throughout the year, one can see bus-loads of tourists making a stopover at Yong Sheng to buy local goodies, etc.

When the Gang of Five went back to Glutton Street for a cool drink of chrysanthemum with herbal tea, we spied a road side stall selling "muah chee". We have not eaten this snack for years and could not resist buying 2 boxes of muah chee. Each box cost RM2.

Throughout the town of Muar, one can pass by big mansions. There are quite a number of renowned personalities in Singapore and Malaysia who hail from Muar.

All in all, a total of almost 700 photographs were taken during Chinese New Year this year. Here is a sampling of some of the photographs in slideshow format. Enjoy!

Get ready to receive miracles, overabounding blessings and a year of victory!

Love to one and all,
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