Monday, September 27, 2010

Back Garden

It is good to wake up and look into the pleasant greenery of the back garden to the sounds of chirping birds and the crowing male serama (local breed of bantam chickens). Just in front of the back bedroom windows is a walkway and alongside the walkway a row of flower bed. Beyond that is our back garden.

After nearly two years, our back garden is coming along nicely ... still maturing but looking good. It should look even better in a couple of years' time! The photographs were taken by TK from the back bedrooms' windows.  

The left of the garden....

The centre....

The right....

The back garden is split into two parts by a shallow open drain. The garden at the back beyond the drain have the trees while the section of the garden in front of the drain have  bushes with fragrant flowers. This stretch of the back garden forms the lower half of our L-shaped Fragrant Garden which continues on the the right hand side. A number of different species of birds are visitors to the garden and we also have a pair of serama there.

Just in case anyone think that we are in a very rural area; we are not. Our back bedrooms are pretty quiet as they are set some 60 m (200 feet) back from the front main gate which faces a reasonably busy (time-related) arterial road leading to a very busy main road - Green Road - with all the schools and shops.

It certainly feels very pleasant and relaxing there. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chinese flying lanterns - 孔明燈 (kongmingdeng)

After the Mid-Autumn festival (中秋節) celebration dinner the night before, all of us went into the garden to see the lanterns as well as the fireworks that were being set off by the neighbours. We also wanted to send off some Chinese flying lanterns or 孔明燈  (kongmingdeng).

The Chinese flying lanterns - 孔明燈  (kongmingdeng) - are miniature hot air balloons with their own fuel. The lanterns are of paper with a holder for the fuel. Candles were used in the past but now, blocks of flammable wax are the main sources of the fuel.


It was said to have been invented by Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮) (181-234 A.D.) and who was the Chancellor of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period of China. The flying lantern was also named after him - he was also known as 孔明 (Kong Ming). Zhuge Liang was already famous as a military strategist but only after  Luo Guanzhong (罗贯中) published his famous classic, Romance of Three Kingdoms (三国演义) in the 14th century, did  he became a god-like hero to the Chinese readers. 

According to history, Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮) floated thousands of these Chinese flying lantern (孔明燈 - kongmingdeng) across the army camps of enemy kingdoms to frighten and confuse their soldiers before launching his armies against them.

Today, we use these Chinese flying lantern (孔明燈 - kongmingdeng) for a more leisurely pursuit - FUN!  It is also popular with the Chinese to write their wishes on the lanterns and then sending their wishes up to heaven.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival II or 中秋節 II

Today being Mid-Autumn Festival or 中秋節 (Zhongqiujie), I wonder how many of you are old enough to remember this mooncake as being the most commonly available and eaten ...

This is the White Mooncake and made of rice flour, sugar and water. This is the main choice available for normal folks in the not-so-distant poorer days of yesteryears! The slightly more expensive variety comes with roasted black sesame seeds in the cake mix.

When I was a young boy, my mum used to make them at home. The rice flour was toasted and then knead into a dough with caster sugar and water. 

The two-pieces mould was of brass - a flat round pan with a heavy top that fitted nicely into the pan. The top piece had the design for the mooncakes and there were a number of top pieces with different designs. A weighed ball of dough was placed into the base pan and then shaped to fit the base. The top piece was then placed into the pan and pressure was applied on the top piece of the mould to fix the shape of the mooncake and to create the pattern. Once done, you have the white moon cake. 

Sad to say, the brass moulds are no longer available - mum threw them out years ago once such mooncakes cakes became available commercially at a reasonable price! :-(

Nowadays, such mooncakes are rarely eaten and, if eaten, it's purely for nostalgia - considering that it is not very tasty, just sweet.  Still, eating it brings back memories of a long lost childhood. 

Such mooncakes are still in production though as they are being used for religious ceremonies on this day - the mooncake in the picture was used for our ancestor worship ceremony this morning.

Tonight, we will have a family gathering - steamboat, BBQ and, of course, the lanterns for the children. Part of the fun will also include the release of the Chinese flying lanterns (孔明燈) (kongmingdeng).


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival - 中秋節

Tomorrow is the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month and is thus the Mid-Autumn Festival or 中秋節 (Zhongqiujie)。There are lots of legends and stories related to this festival - so if you are interested, just google for them! Mooncakes are traditionally Chinese pastries generally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. As for the fillings, it looks like the variety is endless - so I will not write more here!

Here to the home-made mooncakes!

The green one is the snow skin mooncake and the brown one is a baked mooncake. The filling inside the baked one is of lotus seed paste and melon seeds. These days, most of the fillings used are low sugar.

This is a small one - about 4 cm in diameter and the filling is a pineapple paste. Most, if not all, the commercial pineapple paste available now  are too sweet for me.

What is  Mid-Autumn Festival  without melon seed and, of course, the pamelo?

 Actually, my main interest in mooncakes is not in the actual moon cakes but in the moulds that produce the moon cakes!  Below is a  variety of the moulds - both wooden (previously hand-crafted, but now machined) and plastic - used for making mooncakes.

This is a wooden mould and is one of the four-in-one type, meaning that the four faces of the wooden block have four different patterns.


The following wooden moulds are stand alone units. 

The unicorn ..... 

The pig ....

The large square ....

The large oval and small round ....

These days , plastic moulds are also available and they are generally about 1/5 the price of the wooden ones though some of the better wooden ones fetch very much high prices. Plastic ones are easier to use BUT the quality of the relief in the patterns on the mooncakes is sharply reduced.

The large and small round moulds ....
The sow and five piglets ....  
In recent years, various manufacturers have also introduced the plastic moulds with springs for easy release of the mooncakes from the moulds ...

It is important to note that all the moulds seen here are for the home users. They are not used by the professional mooncake makers! Each of the professional mooncake makers will have their own set of hand-crafted wooden moulds with their own intricate unique patterns - costing thousands of ringgits, if not more. 

Here to a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Delicate Veiled Beauty

A garden is truly an amazing place and sometimes wild plants just germinate and become plants of beauty. There is also a variety of wild mushrooms that appear overnight and disappear a few hours later.

Like this delicate veiled beauty which is possibly a variety of the Veiled Lady Mushroom (Dictyophora indusiata) found in the wild in Malaysia as well as China and other parts of Asia.

I did not notice any rotting smell but rather that of the typical straw mushrooms we buy in cans from China. However, I am no expert in identifying mushrooms and never use fresh wild mushrooms in my cooking! There was a skink there, though, and within half an hour, it had made a meal of the veil :-)


If this variety is indeed Dictyophora indusiata, it is an edible mushroom though I would never ever even dream of collecting and eating them. Never ever take the risk of eating DIY-collected mushrooms! Get fresh/canned/dried mushrooms from the supermarkets!

In local supermarkets, the veiled lady mushrooms are imported from China. The unopened ones (where the veils are not seen) are sold as Straw Mushrooms and are available preserved in brine (in cans) or dried. The opened ones with the long veils, also known as the Bamboo Mushroom, are sold dried. These mushrooms make for a delicious addition to Chinese soups and steamboats!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)

The Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) or BaiRiHong, in Mandarin, is certainly an old time favourite of mine - having grown it as a small boy on the roof top garden of my father's shophouse along India Street in Kuching.

In our garden, we have one round flower bed in the front for this plant but the seeds spread throughout the garden bringing colours to odd nooks and crannies in the garden.

There are three colours that I know of - red, pink and white. For some reason, I never like the white version so I never grow them. 

The globe amaranth is relatively easy to grow, pretty hardy and brings a strong splash of bright colour to the garden. Having said that - the garden is mainly these red ones as the pink ones seem not to thrive so well!! 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kuini Fruit (Mangifera odorata)

The kuini tree (local variety of mango, Mangifera odorata) in the garden of our old house is fruiting again.

The tree was planted by my parents in 1980 and is now some 40 feet tall - trunk circumference is about 1.4m (55"). There were two before but one was felled by termites about 10 years ago. When I briefly stayed at the house in between returning from the UK and then leaving to work in Singapore (1982), I used to hear through the night the "boom" sounds from the the kuini fruits dropping onto the galvanised roof of the extended kitchen! The house had been empty since 1990 when my mum moved out after my father passed away.  

I previously mentioned in an earlier post that, last season, this tree produced in excess of 500 delicious fruits, some of which are up to 1 kg in weight!! My mum told me that this fruit production had been maintained since the tree started fruiting.

After the last fruiting season, we were supposed to add new soil and fertiliser but plain forgot about it. The old house is 2 km away and we rarely popped in there - just the occasional visit to check on the empty house.

So far we have collected over a hundred kuini fruits, all weighing between 350-650 g. We started the collection late - as by the time we visited the tree, there were dozens of fruits rotting on the ground. Twice a day, we need to collect all the the ripened fruits that fell. So each morning and evening, we would drive over to the house but even then is is a battle with the small mammals like squirrels as to whether we can get to the fruits first! 

The ripened kuini fruits that dropped naturally cannot keep for too long and there is no way we can eat all the fruits ourselves. So we have been distributing them, as we collect the fruits, to other family members and to our friends. They love them!


The cut fruits looks a delectable bright yellow, is super sweet and creamy (no trace of fibres). Truly the best kuini fruit we have eaten!