It is said that certain stimulus to our senses like sight, taste, touch, hearing or smell can trigger us to recall certain memories. For example, hearing an old familiar tune may bring back memories of hanging round the jukebox with close childhood friends at the neighbourhood soda fountain shop. My wife has always said that smells remind her of things in her life.
I tend to be more a visual and tactile person and never imagined how a smell may jog a memory. At least until today. Today, I came home to the smell of my wife cooking a traditional Malaysian Chinese sweet dessert called “Fu-chuk yi mai tong sui”. This dessert is made by boiling pearl barley (yi mai), soya beancurd skin (fu-chuk) and gingko nuts together. It is sweetened with rock sugar and flavoured by the essence from pandan leaves.
The picture above shows a pandan plant with its fragrant leaves. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the pandan, it is used in Southeast Asian cooking to flavor rice, meats and desserts. The flavor and fragrance is very similar to that found in fragrant jasmine rice. Anyway, for the sake of this post, suffice to say that it is a very distinctive and delectable fragrance.
And, for the very first time that I am aware of, I had a most vivid memory flash triggered by a smell; the smell of the pandan leaf. The smell reminded me of my mother.
My mother used to wear a really strong perfume which many people associate with her but that used to provoke asthma attacks for me. So my fond memories of my mother is tied to the pandan fragrance cause it brings back childhood memories of being in her kitchen and pestering her while she concocted all kinds of culinary delectables. She was a great cook. Later in life, the pandan fragrance was still associated with her as she used the pandan leaf in her home made version of potpourri.
For me, the pandan fragrance truly is sweet.
Which of your five senses triggers powerful memories for you?
Another “Blast from the Past” type post and this one actually continues from the post “Barter Trade“.
It was 1983 and I spent that summer backpacking and train jumping through Europe. I had traveled as far north as Bergen, Norway and as far east as Plitvice Lakes in the then Yugoslavia. Now returning from Yugoslavia, I made my way to Vienna and Salzburg in Austria. On the train, I met up with Kate, an Aussie “sheila” (Aussie slang for “woman/girl”) who was also traveling alone.
Our timing was not great though. Pope John Paul II was due to visit Vienna on a four day trip starting on the 10th of September. Although we were there almost a week ahead, accommodation of all types were already hard to find due to the large influx of Catholic faithful and pilgrims. In fact the first morning there was spent entirely on trying to find accommodation for the next three days. In the end, we had to stay in different places on each of those days, moving from one place to another. The one positive thing was that in the midst of the accommodation hunting, we hooked up with Gai, another Aussie Sheila.
And so we spent most of the next three days exploring Vienna as an unlikely trio. We made a good team. Kate could be counted on to find great shopping, Gai was an expert at finding coffee and cakes and I was the only one who could actually read a map and navigate to the sights.
Still, it was sometimes the case of the blind leading the blind. One evening, after sight seeing, we found ourselves in a working class part of town and with the intent of escaping the tourist traps and finding “authentic” Vienna, we ended up in one we surmised to be the local “dive”. It was a sort of neighborhood pub that also served traditional Austrian food like the famous Vienna Schnitzel (an escalope of veal or pork which is covered with breadcrumbs and fried).
Anyway, we were enjoying our meal and quaffing our local beers and although some of the crowd in the bar looked a bit rough and ready, they kept to themselves and did not bother us. Of course, I wasn’t expecting anyone to bother me but it would not have been unforeseen for someone to hit on my two attractive traveling companions.
What was totally unforeseen however was what happened next. An elderly man got up from where he had been sitting alone. He looked frail and very dependent on his walking stick for support. Yet when he came near our table, he seemed to be empowered with excitement and fervour and proceeded to use his heavy wooden walking stick to prod me in the ribs. At the same time, his eyes seem bright with passion as he asked us in a surprisingly strong voice, “Hitler …… gud,ya!?!?”
I was shocked by the walking stick in my ribs and further confused by what he had said. Was he asking a question or making a statement? My first natural reaction was to look blankly like a squirrel caught in the headlights of a car. He persisted with another painful nudge in my ribs. He stood there quivering with emotion and asked in a louder but cracked voice, “Hitler ……GUD, ya!?!”
The girls kept quiet and so it was left to me to respond. I looked around the bar, there were a lot of large, Teutonic giants looking back at us. It was 1983. The Second World War had ended 38 years ago. Nazism was a thing of the past, right? Yet, sitting there in that bar, it did not feel so. I felt like a dumb lamb in a den of wolves.
Not being the hero type ……..uh, I mean to say that I was not willing to endanger my female companions. Yes, that’s what I mean. Yeah. Anyway, I decided to take the Chamberlain approach and made a wishy-washy gesture of appeasement. I looked the old codger in the eye and bravely said, “Hitler ……sometimes good but sometimes bad.”
Yes, yes, I know. What a cowardly cop out but I wasn’t up to having my head bashed in. Anyway, the man just stood there looking at us as we hurriedly paid our bills and scooted out of that establishment into the relative safety of the dark streets.
Until now I am uncertain if that man was truly a fervent Nazi supporter or was he just testing us or was he just a screw loose. I’d like to think that a minute after we skedaddled out of there, the whole bar burst out in laughter and congratulated Old Kurt for playing that practical joke on yet another gang of gullible tourists. Perhaps behind the bar or on the men’s room door, another stick man is etched into the wood. Just a couple more and Old Kurt would have shot down twenty tourists.
Dear Ladies, here is a business opportunity for you. If any of you are perchance free ranging and organic, you might be interested to know that a certain ice cream maker in Covent Garden, London, England is keen to purchase your breast milk. I kid you not. The Ice Creamists are using breast milk to produce their line of Baby Gaga human breast milk ice creams.
Dear gentlemen, please replace drooling tongues into mouth.
Seriously though, do you think that the public will go Ga Ga over human breast milk ice cream or will they Gag Gag. Let me know what you think.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
In the spirit of revolution that seems to be sweeping the world of late, the Lone Grey Squirrel brings to you once again (Mad Cows and Angry Chickens), a video highlighting the plight of animals in modern battery farms and a call for a return to all that is free ranging and organic. (Some women in the ice cream business might want to join this union).
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Post Script: Apparently Lady Gaga is not Goo-goo about Baby Gaga and is going to court to stop the use of that name.
It’s been awhile since I blogged about food which is rather odd considering how it actually occupies this little brain most of the time. It’s almost lunch time here as well and I am certain that I will be famished before this post is up cause I am posting about Hainanese Chefs in Malaysia – they’re amazing.
Hainanese came to what was then Malaya in the late 19th Century from their home on the small island of Hainan in southern China. Like many Chinese, they came seeking a better life and a way of supporting their families in China. Many of the Chinese clans that came soon found a niche in a particular trade or expertise based on their skills. However, the Hainanese came late to the party and many of the more popular and lucrative trades like tin mining, timber, shipping and retail had been taken up and dominated by other clans. The Hainanese ended up becoming domestic help to rich Straits born Chinese families or to the British colonial masters of that time. Many worked in the kitchens where they had to learn to cook Western food. However, before long they developed their own interpretation of Western cooking which was adapted through a fusion of their traditional flavours, available local spices and adjustments to local tastes. Essentially a form of east-meets-west fusion cooking style. The result is simply delicious.
When I was growing up, Hainanese chefs were in high demand and highly regarded. Many opened their own restaurants and others served as exclusive chefs for holiday bungalows in many hill resorts. Regrettably, there are much fewer Hainanese chefs today. Many of them stopped due to changing circumstances brought about with the British leaving after independence. Many of the chefs also failed to pass on their skills to a new generation of apprentices. However, though less common, their legacy still lives on.
For me, three of their signature dishes includes the famous Hainanese chicken rice, the Hainanese Pork Chop and the roti babi (pork stuffed in fried bread). I’m not a big fan of chicken but the rice which is flavoured with chicken fat and garlic smells wonderful and tastes even better. The Pork Chop or chicken chop is an example of their fusion cooking. Cooking for the British, they had to learn to cook chops but they made it their own by creating a sauce based on Worcestershire Sauce (often sold under the brand of Lea and Perrins), which consisting of malt vinegar, sugar, molasses, anchovies, tamarind extract, limes, cloves, soy sauce and others, is itself a fusion product of the British Empire’s far-flung colonies. Net result is yummy. I still go out of my way for a chance to eat an authentic Hainanese Pork Chop and usually sneak in a Roti Babi as well. Roti babi is essentially spiced minced pork with crab meat of asian influence, stuffed into something similar to French toast of European influence. I am feeling very hungry now.
So let me leave you with a couple of pictures and let me go get some lunch. Excuse the drooling, please.
My wife and I have a favorite little restaurant which we went to last night for dinner. The name of the restaurant is “Checkers” and it is a real meat eaters paradise. The owner and chef is a real gourmet and foodie himself. He creates a wonderful range of delicious and imaginative soups, salads and desserts. In fact, there is nothing left wanting but meat and especially pork takes centre stage.
The menu includes wonderfully named items like “Pasta from Hell”, Porgy’s Best and LOTR. Pasta from Hell is of course a very spicy spaghetti dish while Porgy’s best is a mound of some of the best cuts of pork served with salsa salad and mashed potatoes. LOTR stands for Lord of the Ribs and is in fact a whole rack of smoky barbecued ribs. Ummm. Delicious.
The restaurant is not very big at all with a capacity for just about 25 people squeezed into a small space and it was pretty full last night. We had arrived early and had enjoyed our meal of sorrel soup, papaya salad, pork chop and Porgy’s Best and was feeling quite full and sated.
As the rest of the diners continued with their meal, my wife and I were having a pleasant post dinner conversation. At one point, I told my wife that I completed a 13 week course with a local Christian organisation which I had taken. There was a two part examination at the end of the course. I was rather pleased that I was the top student with the highest points from the examination. My wife asked me what were my results and I told her I got 94 and 96 out of 100 respectively. She congratulated me but then asked who marked the examination.
I told her who marked the exams and as it happens it is someone who is known to both of us. My wife narrowed her suspicious eyes and teased that my strong performance in the exam was attributed to my knowing the examiner. With a laugh she proclaimed loudly, “I smell a rat!”
“What?!?” I said.
“I smell a big rat!” she repeated.
A strange hush fell over the whole restaurant. The owner-chef rushed to our table and asked anxiously, “You smell a rat? Here in the restaurant?”
I rolled in laughter as my wife tried to mumble and bumble an explanation that she was using that phrase metaphorically. There was a moment of awkwardness before the owner-chef tried to rescue the moment. “Actually, it reflects badly on a restaurant if no rat tries to steal its food.”
“How true! Check please.”
Incidentally, there is no ratatouille on the menu.
It’s no secret that many of my friends consider me socially uncouth when it comes to the finer things about food and drink. Most of my friends are wine drinkers and some even aspire to be connoisseurs. Some patiently try to educate me by pouring me a glass and then giving me a thirty minute lecture about the wine, its qualities and its pedigree. Don’t get me wrong, I do like to sip wine and in fact after the first two sips, I am blissfully rescued from registering most of the lecture.
Despite their valiant efforts, the sum of my wine knowledge is still limited to red wine, white wine and others. Of course, I have picked up a few names and bits of the wine drinking vocabulary. For example, I remember words like “Chardonnay”, “Riesling”, “Pinot” and “Ice Wine” but from the despairing look on my friend’s faces, it is clear that they all know that I am randomly using these words during conversations on wine without any real understanding.
I am the same with those fancy drinks with toy umbrellas; what are they called? Cocktails? My wife has tried to introduce me to that confusing world of multi-coloured drinks and after 17 years, I now at least know what a mojito and a margarita is. I didn’t even know how to spell the latter (I googled it).
Ah, but talk about beer and I am in my element. Longtime visitors to the Realm will know that the squirrel has a penchant for the amber gold elixir. Beer is such a flavorful and refreshing drink. For sheer variety, I recommend Belgian Beer which has in excess of 750 varieties. I have posted on Belgian Beer before and there is a website “Belgian Beer” wonderfully dedicated to the discovery of all those varieties.
If I had to order a cocktail, it would surely be either a mojito or a margarita. One, because they are nice and two, because I know what they are and can remember their names. Sure, I know the names of a few other cocktails but they do not sound pleasant to me. I am not sure I want to be “bloodied” by Mary, “screwed” by a Screwdriver, put into a “sling” in Singapore or “banged against a wall” by Harvey.
Now there seems to be a perception amongst some that wine is the drink for the elite and beer the drink for the masses. I have it on good authority from an article that I read somewhere but can’t remember where, that the only reason that wine ascended to its exalted status was that at one time in the late 19th Century, almost all the European wine supply was jeopardized by a Phlloxera infestation. The shortage of wine led to a great increase in the price of wine and therefore its elevation to the status of drink of the aristocrats.
I like wine but bemoan that beer has been treated so lowly merely because its production was never under threat. However, beer has many advantages over wine.
The chairman of the food science department at the University of California at Davis, Charles Bamforth says, “Beer contains valuable B vitamins, such as B12, folic acid and niacin, as well as antioxidants, such as polyphenols and ferulic acid. Which makes it the healthier choice, contrary to popular opinion. Beer also contains soluble fibre, which is good for digestion.” (from Sciencebase).
Beer has also been tested and found to pair with certain foods better than wine (beer/wine food pairing). For weight watchers though, a glass of wine has about 75 calories while a bottle of beer has 95 calories.
Before I end though I must also mention my number two alcoholic beverage which is cider. Now Americans and Canadians know cider to mean unfiltered apple juice but to the rest of the world it is a refreshing clear, crisp alcoholic drink made from the fermentation of apples. It has a sharp tart taste that is particularly invigorating.
There you have it. My two favorite alcoholic beverages and my choice of cocktails when I do venture into that strange world. What is your poison?
Life has been rather busy lately. I have a surprising amount of work to do for a beach bum. Also I seem to be having writer’s block. Okay, actually I am just too lazy to post anything original as I have been busy typing papers these last few days.
So, allow me to share with you this video which I unearthed after detailed research as a service to romantics around the world and to increase global understanding of our friends from the land of perpetual ice.
I blame XUP for this post. She had to do an entire thesis on bacon. Good bacon is not readily or easily available in Malaysia due to Muslim sensitivities to any porky product. Luckily, I happen to be in Hindu Bali when XUP posted on this. As a result, I am happily enjoying frazzled bacon. If I was still in Malaysia, I could only drool wistfully.
So just because, I love a funny commercial and I really, really love bacon ……………….
I know close to nothing about art but I do know what I like. Then again, squirrels are natural nut-pickers which is barely different to being nit-pickers. Hence we are quite qualified to be critics. On such flimsy reasoning, I shall apply my superior rodent-sized brain to being an art critic, philosopher, and sociologist while incidentally finding the cure for cancer and solving the Grand Unified theory.
My topic today is beauty as portrayed in art. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, the Squirrel observes that for most of history, man has considered fat to be beautiful. Don’t believe it? Let’s take a short trip though the history of art.
Exhibit Number One is the Venus of Willendorf which is the vision of feminine beauty as crafted by some Paleolithic caveman from about 20,000 years ago.
Venus – Man’s Image of Feminine Beauty (circa 20,000 BC)
For Exhibit Two, the Squirrel presents to you representative art from the Baroque Period around the 16th Century by Peter Paul Rubens. A Rubens woman, according to the art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, is “plump and pearly,” while to Richard Klein, author of “Eat Fat,” she is a “luscious fat girl” who stands for “the whole weight and wealth of human nature.”
This image of beauty is still very much alive and kicking all the way up to the early 20th century. Exhibit Three is the work of Renoir. Georges Riviere contends that Renoir was very particular about his women and that he liked them fat with small noses, wide mouths, thick lips, and small teeth.
This art critic Squirrel contends that it is only in these last few generations that the image of beauty has changed to what we see today as demonstrated below….
Now why is it that for most of human history, fat was beautiful? Well, the Squirrel has a theory. For most of history, man was never sure when the next meal was coming. Paleolithic man was only just learning to farm and hunt. They were also trying to collect nut and berries but let’s face it ….they were out-competed by better evolved mammals like squirrels. Hence, their view of beauty, their ultimate Venus was a well-fed and rounded woman.
Life remains tough for artists as history progressed. The grand masters of the Baroque period were very dependent on patrons and their whims and fancies to survive. Sometimes they ate well and sometimes they didn’t. Again their image of beauty were modeled on the rich and well-fed aristocratic women that they met.
Early 20th Century was still a tough time for artists as evidenced that most artists were poor, starving and living in poverty, suffering for their art’s sake. Their pieces of work tended to be worth money only after they died (isn’t that ironic?). Once again, fat is beautiful in the eyes of a starving painter.
It is only in recent history that we have entered a period of relative abundance. Today, fast food is even more readily available than fast women and after conning the public into buying into modern art, most artists are fat themselves. Finally, fat is becoming the norm and conversely thin is finally being considered beautiful.
And what is the moral behind this rambling post? Well, the Squirrel has conclusively shown that “the way into a man’s art is through his stomach”!
In my last post, I lamented on how documentaries today have placed sensationalism and entertainment before education. As a result, instead of being taught about the wonders of the world and of nature and also being taught to respect nature and wildlife, we get documentaries where the presenter is trying to do something stupid like seeing how close he can get to a snake or crocodile without getting bitten.
Documentaries should return to a time when they all aspired to a higher standard. To demonstrate what I mean, have a look at this early Panorama documentary from 1957. Like any good documentary, it opens our eyes to things we may have not known before.
This video was filmed near the village of Lirpaloof.
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels