In seven years time…

Grilled aubergine, spinach & feta salad
One of the worst things that can happen in the kitchen is the gas tank dying on you midst cooking a meal to satisfy the insane hunger pangs following an intense run. What is a famished person to do with a pan of half-cooked pasta sauce?! Note to self, always have spare emergency gas, particularly during the holiday season.

With none of the usual gas suppliers around because of the CNY period, I spent the entire week trying to prepare meals that did not require cooking on the stove. One Thursday I pulled together a tuna niçoise salad for my work lunchbox, pleased with myself for remembering that canned tuna is godsend for those lazy days when you cannot be bothered to fire up the hob. As I sat down to eat, I realised that I actually have not eaten tuna for quite some time now. With each forkful, I found myself having to force down the bites and it soon became obvious that I have actually gone off my canned fishy friends. The smell, the texture – everything about the tuna put me off. And this is coming from someone who used to live off tuna sarnies or tuna topped jacket potatoes! I suppose it’s only natural for your taste buds to evolve and your association to once familiar foods can change over a period of time. My attitude towards chicken is similar. Having binged on chicken breasts as the default choice since I do not eat any other meats other than seafood, I can no longer stand the stuff (unless I absolutely have no choice and do not want to come off as a picky eater). 

On the other hand, there are certain foods that I previously would have cringed in horror at but now wonder why I have deprived myself of them all this time – smoked salmon (I shockingly could not stand the slimy texture), sashimi (I questioned why anyone would want to eat raw fish), spinach, aubergines (I was not a fan of having sweet veg/fruit in my savory dishes and till today am not too thrilled at the thought of Moroccan tanginess), and probably the biggest wtf-factor of them all, avocados! I now can’t imagine a life without any of these beautiful ingredients. I read somewhere that this evolution of tastes is natural and can be attributed scientifically to your bodily cells regenerating every 7 years. Others say this is a myth. I think the changes in your tastes boils down to age and experience. Excessive repetition leading to boredom or a bad incident with a particular food will only eventually lead to a disinterest (i.e. me and chicken). However exposure to new foods cooked in exciting ways beyond what you are used to does wonders to expand your taste buds.

Another salad that I pulled together durning my no-stove cooking week contained two ingredients I previously could not stand – aubergines and spinach. Despite my earlier aversion to the sweetness of aubergines when used in savory dishes, I now love their versatility and their ability to easily soak up the flavours of other ingredients surrounding it. Aubergines are also one of the few vegetables that taste completely different depending on how you cook them. I’m extremely thankful for my new love for the ‘king of the vegetables’ and look forward to what taste surprises the next 7 years will hold! 

Grilled aubergines, spinach & feta salad

The Ingredients
Spinach leaves, aubergine, pine nuts, feta cheese, salt & pepper. Additional ingredients that I threw in to bulk up the salad – sliced mushrooms, croutons, and leftover quinoa.

For the dressing – olive oil, lemon juice, dijon mustard.

The Preparation
1.  Slice aubergines and place in a tray drizzled with olive oil. Season the top sides of the aubergines and grill until they have softened. When they look cook, flip aubergines and grill the other side.

2. Pan fry pine nuts (I placed mine in the oven!)
3. Combine the spinach leaves, pine nuts, crumbled feta cheese, sliced mushrooms, croutons, and leftover quinoa.
4. Whisk dressing ingredients and drizzle over salad.

Mission teetotal = mission total fail

Homemade cheats pizza
Confession, mission teetotal did not last as long as I thought it would. I fell off the wagon after two measly weeks! I want to be able to blame it on a crappy client meeting, a big event ie best friend’s birthday/wedding, or even peer pressure. But I can’t. There is no one else to fault except myself. What can I say, nothing beats a glass of vino  (or errr a can of Tiger) on a Friday night after a very long week. To avoid slipping into total hermit isolation in the run up to June, I’m going to revise my plan from completely shunning drinks to moderate consumption. Just as long as I do not get drawn into the out-till-6am-scoffing-down-a-plate-of-greasy-maggi-goreng Friday night outings so that I can still have a long, productive training session the following day.

Over the weekend I found myself craving a pizza but I was keen to avoid succumbing into yet another food vice and wanted to hold on to some semblance of  an ‘eating for training’ regime. I really do enjoy creating healthier versions of my favourite foods, especially if the better-for-you replicas retain all  the intended flavours, avoiding the ‘what have you done, it now tastes like cardboard’ trap. It’s amazing how a simple swap of ingredients can make such a difference in terms of overall nutritional content. The idea of using wholemeal pitta bread as a pizza base was originally my sister’s and it’s perfect for people like me who cannot be  bothered to go through the process of making my own dough (translation: I am ashamed to admit the fact that I am a crappy baker). A great thing about pitta bread in Malaysia is that it is circular in shape, rather than the English oblong pittas, so it lends itself perfectly as a base to whatever crazy topping combination your heart desires. Not only does making your own pizza allow you to incorporate nutritious veggies more than some of the store bought options, it also allows you to be a bit more experimental with your ingredients. For the pizza’s below, I made three different types for the family to share: 1) A classic mushroom, tomato, basil & mozzarella 2) Roasted aubergines, basil & mozzarella 3) A florentine inspired spinach, pine nuts, feta, and caramalised onions (I have developed a recent obsession with caramalised onions and am on a mission to include this in just about everything that I cook!).

I guess moral of the story is that you can still enjoy your favourite foods while training but the little swapping tricks will ensure that you do not make too much of a dent to the healthy eating mission. Now if I could only find a healthy substitute for my vino.

Homemade cheats pizza

Basic Ingredients
Wholemeal pitta bread, tomato paste, dried oregano, salt & pepper, a bit of olive oil.

Topping option 1:Cherry tomatoes, basil, sliced mushrooms, mozzarella cheese
Topping option 2: Sliced aubergines, chilli flakes, basil, mozzarella cheese
Topping option 3: Sliced onions, spinach, pine nuts, feta cheese

The Preparation
1. Mix the tomato paste with the dried oregano and season.

2. Spread paste mix onto the wholemeal pitta breads
3. Arrange toppings accordingly:

Mushroom, cherry tomato & basil
Top the pizza with sliced mushrooms, halved cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, and grated mozzarella cheese. Grill until cheese has melted.

Aubergine & basil
Slice aubergines and place in a baking tray that has been drizzled in olive oil. Season aubergine tops. Grill. Top grilled aubergines onto pitta, add basil leaves, and mozzarella cheese. Grill until cheese has melted.

Spinach, pine nuts, feta & caramalised onions
Saute sliced onions with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Until onions have caramalised. Blanch the spinach leaves and drain. Toast pine nuts until golden brown. Top pizza with spinach, onions, pine nuts and crumbled feta cheese. Grill until feta has browned.


Always hopeful, never defeated

Prawn pasta
While driving home listening to Coldplay’s Shiver on repeat for the fifth consecutive time in a row, it still amazes me how when it comes to matters of the heart, this song articulates my exact feelings, better than I could ever formulate my emotions into words. Time and time again, I turn to this gorgeous song about longing, unrequited love, falling in that scary kind of way, invisibility, patience, and never giving up hope (all this in a dreamy 5 minutes!). Every single time I hear Shiver, it’s almost as if Chris Martin physically manifests himself in front of me, like a genie from my deafening car speakers, plunges his fists into my heart to read everything I am feeling in that instant. He pens the song just for me, in the full knowledge that I will continue to bottle up my sentiments, never having the balls to verbalise them to anyone, so Coldplay volunteer to do all the pleading on my behalf.

During that same hazy drive home, it came to me that in addition to having a go-to soul bearing song, I also have a meal that I turn to for comfort when love has disappointed me. All I could think about was making a hearty bowl of prawn pasta. My emotional connection to this dish is equivalent to the stereotypical image of ‘girl bawling eyes out over tub of ice-cream or box of chocolates’ in the hopes that these simple indulgences will act as an opiate to numb the broken heart. My version is probably less glamorous with a messy plate of tomato based pasta. Crying while slurping long strands of spaghetti is not a pretty sight! So personal (or unattractive!) is the attachment that I feel quite uncomfortable cooking this meal for people as it feels as if I’m serving up my heart on a plate for the world to see.

I can’t really pinpoint what it is about the prawn pasta that draws such a protective/trusting reaction – maybe it’s the creaminess of the sauce promising to soothe any feelings of rejection or possibly its hopeful Italian associations to the purveyors of passion and amore. Everything about this dish from the way it is put together to the presentation is haphazard, random, spontaneous – a free fall. It encapsulates the whirlwind of emotions when you lose a piece of yourself to someone else. Everything feels a bit blurry, confusing, but so right.

But while Coldplay willingly choose to continue waiting, for my own sanity (and to avoid a carb & cream overload), I have chosen to let go, hoping that every bite brings me closer to leaving feelings of defeat behind, so that I can always remain hopefully optimistic. I started 2012 on a mission to seek positive energy, so it’s time to move on.

Prawn pasta

The Ingredients
Spaghetti, prawns, 1 x can of chopped tomatoes, splash of white wine, single cream (or creme fraiche), sliced red chillies, garlic, drop of balsamic vinegar, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt & peppper.

The Preparation
1. Cook spaghetti until al dente. Reserve some of the pasta liquid.

2. Saute garlic and red chillies in olive oil.
3. Add halved cherry tomatoes.
4. When tomatoes look partially cooked and garlic starts to brown, add a splash of white wine and can of chopped tomatoes.
5. Cook until tomato sauce starts to bubble then add in drop of balsamic vinegar and season. I find that the balsamic vinegar neutralises the tartness of the tomatoes.
6. Add prawns and when prawns have started to turn slightly pink add in cream, followed by pasta.
7. Serve topped with rocket leaves.

The rice war

Wild rice salad with cherry tomatoes, broccoli, tofu, and mange tout
It’s an ongoing joke between my dad and I that the hospital where I was born majorly messed up, accidentally giving me away to the wrong family. The first piece of evidence is me being gigantically taller than my smaller, petite family members (and not to mention other Malaysians in general). There’s also the fact that I do not look like either one of my parents, while my sister is an exact carbon copy of my mom. However in my dad’s eyes, the ultimate test of being an ‘Aziz’ – how much you enjoy rice and meat. And unfortunately for him, I’m a fan of neither. 

I have never really been a rice person, which is strange thing to say considering I am Asian and this is our holy staple to any meal. Don’t get me wrong, I do eat rice on occasion, but it is never my first choice for a carb fix. Maybe I find rice bland, but the same thing can be said for most other carbs. Furthermore, the beauty of rice is its ability to act as a blank canvas, heroing the flavours of its accompanying dishes. Oddly though, I can happily live without nasi lemak (Malaysia’s national dish of coconut rice and condiments), nasi goreng (fried rice), nasi briyani, nasi campur (mixed rice) and all the lauks in the universe, or the veggie fav banana leaf meal. But deny me of my noodles, pasta, or even (brown) bread and my world will start to fall apart! When I was living alone, a small 500g pack of rice would easily last me a full year. I was probably one of the very few Malaysians that refused to own a rice cooker – why waste limited London kitchen counter space/storage when you can cook rice on the hob with a normal pot!

Surprisingly in the last year I have developed a new appreciation for rice with the discovery of the brown and wild variety. Now many who are white rice purists will scoff at the notion of brown/wild rice as ‘hippy food’ that tastes like cardboard. However as someone who has never been hooked on white rice, I actually prefer the nutty, earthy, slightly smokey flavours and texture found in brown/wild rice. The alternative variety also has far more nutritional benefits than its white counterpart. White rice starts off brown and is processed/milled/polished to death to completely remove the bran/germ layer, reducing its original fiber and vitamin content. Brown rice on the other hand still retains its wholegrain status, since only the first outer layered is removed through milling, thus holding on to its vital nutrients. Another benefit is that brown rice has a much lower glycemic index to stabilise your blood glucose levels, keeping you fuller for longer (while reducing the risk of diabetes in the long term). Think this is great? Well wild rice is even better. Not technically rice (it is scientifically classified as aquatic type of grass), wild rice surpasses other grains in protein content, minerals, B vitamins, and folic acid. It has twice the protein content of brown rice (8 times the protein of white rice) while only containing 83 calories for 1/2 cup cooked!

I find that the chewy texture of brown/wild rice makes it more enjoyable when served cold, which is something that cannot be said about white rice. This makes it the perfect accompaniment to a salad, just like the dish below.  In London, I absolutely loved Biona’s Organic Wild Rice mix, where a single pack contained a combination of brown, wild, and red rice. Please, please, please will a supplier start distributing Biona products to Malaysia? I may just consider experimenting with a brown/wild rice nasi lemak and see if I can convert the nation. Move over Village Park Nasi Lemak!

Wild rice salad with cherry tomatoes, broccoli, tofu, and mange tout

The Ingredients
Wild rice mix (I used the last of my Biona packet! Brown rice or multigrain rice can easily be found in Malaysia in the organic section of most supermarkets – you can buy the brown/multigrain/wild (or black) rice individually and combine this yourself.)
 broccoli, pan fried tofu, cherry tomatoes, mange tout, and almond flakes.

The Preparation:
1. Cook rice mix (1 cup of rice to 3 cups of water) until the black husks have split and rice is slightly al dente. Wild rice takes slightly longer to cook than regular. Like I said, I think rice can be easily be made without using a rice cooker. The trick is to cook it on the hob uncovered and when it looks 3/4 done, place the lid on to steam the rice and lower the heat.

2. Blanch broccoli and mange tout in boiling water.
3. Sautee almond flakes until this has slightly browned.
4. Mix rice, broccoli, mange tout, sliced tofu, halved cherry tomatoes, and almond flakes.
5. Serve with dressing of choice (I find that the sesame Japanese dressing is lovely with this).  

Going back to the start

Good old stir fry noodles
Self doubt spreads like wildfire. One minute you’re confident, grounded, strong, certain. When the barrage of doubts start to rear its ugly head, within an instant it permeates itself into every inch of your being. Your sense of self wavers and you begin to reassess every aspect of your life – your worth, decisions, abilities, how you fit into your surroundings, relationships, and even down to trivial matters like appearance or running speed.

Every now and then this doubt manifests itself into my safe haven, the kitchen. Recently in the name of being adventurous, I experimented cooking with pearl barley. I should probably explain that I have always had a negative perception of barley, having been forced fed hot barley drinks as a constantly ill child. Growing up, I always associated barley as something you would eat only when you were sick, never understanding why anyone would voluntarily, without a gun to their head, order a barley drink at the mamak. But that was years ago, since then my taste buds have evolved. In an attempt to expand my repertoire of wholesome ingredients, I cooked the grain in a risotto inspired dish. I was excited at this potential new discovery, throwing in an abundance of different mushrooms – portobello, enoki, shiitake, and porcini. I was even more generous than usual in my sprinklings of parmesan cheese, reassured in the knowledge that I could afford the indulgence since pearl barley is a nutritional powerhouse in comparison to the standard Arborio rice. Unfortunately, too much enthusiasm and perhaps a wee bit of over confidence lead to an epic recipe failure. The dish bombed. Badly. I haven’t had a kitchen disaster this bad since my attempt at spicing up a pasta dish led to a whole bottle’s worth of pepper sinking into the sauce (and was forced to eat the meal because my then boyfriend, bless him, still said it was the best pasta he’s ever had, yeah right!). At least the pasta-pepper fiasco dish was edible. The barley risotto turned out looking like mushed up cat food and I found the chewy texture of the barley incredibly disturbing. It’s very rare that I consciously make a decision to throw away food and not force myself to eat what I have cooked.

With a wasted pot of ‘superfood’, my cooking ego was slightly bruised as I questioned my ability to experiment and go beyond my cooking comfort zone. Am I doomed to cook the same thing over and over again? Maybe I should stick to being a safe cook and not be adventurous with food? Or shock horror, could it be that I am really not as good a cook as I think I am? In the last several months, self doubt has been a regular visitor. New environment, new job, new people, new experiences, new wavelengths – I can’t help but question how I fit in amidst all this newness. The culmination of all these elements (some good, some not so great) have left me debating the consequences/outcomes of my decisions. In times when I break into a cold sweat, begging the universe to unfold its master plan to me, I always find that it is best to take a deep breath and remind myself of my original intentions (i.e. I moved back to Malaysia wanting a change in my stagnant London life). Going back to the start, to what I know is true and honest always pacifies any overwhelming surges of self doubt. 

The same logic can be applied to the kitchen. The best way to get over a kitchen disaster without any dents in confidence to your cooking abilities is to go back to making that dish you know you kick ass at. A day after the barley incident, I turned to the first thing I ever learned how to cook, my fail safe stir fry noodles. So I created a monster of a dish with pearl barley but my stir fry noodles are idiot proof, taste good, and no matter what goes wrong when experimenting with ingredients, I know I can fix it. It’s comforting to know that when life starts feeing a bit unfamiliar and questionable, I can always rely on a delicious plate of stir fry noodles to fall back on, reminding me that I am fine and (sort of) know what I am doing, the craziness will pass, everything will be ok. 

Stir fry egg noodles with prawn and tofu

Ingredients
Egg noodles, prawns, tofu, fish balls, shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, cabbage, olive oil, soy sauce, nampla (fish sauce), garlic, onion, salt & pepper.

The Preparation
1. If using dry noodles, cook them in some boiling water. Set aside.

2. Sautee garlic and onion in olive oil.
3. Add both types of mushrooms, fish balls, tofu, and prawns.
4. Pour in soy sauce (about 3 tbsp) and nampla (2 tbsp). Season.
5. Add in cooked egg noodles and cabbage. 

Just like the old days part 3

A twist on eggs florentine
The final chapter in my tribute to the London foursome, I’m dedicating this to the member who is always my partner in crime when in comes to foodie adventures. This lovely lady, who is still holding down the fort in London town for us, was the one person I would immediately turn to when I was on a mission to find the best of the best. These constant quests to find meals that would surpass a previous discovery made the whole experience of eating in London incredibly exciting. We hunted down the best Red Velvets – after one too many cupcakes, sugar highs, and to avoid bursting the seams of our jeans we conceded Hummingbird Bakery (still) holds the crown. There were numerous Sunday brunch dim sum trials (I am a Royal China loyalist) and stomach bursting Greek restaurant sessions (the jury is still out for Retsina of Belsize park vs Lemonia in charming Primrose Hill). Probably the most significant search of them all – the best eggs benedict/florentine. We cracked (cue drum cymbal) through a dozen different brunch places, even attempted making our own, but absolutely hands down this award goes to Raouls in Maida Vale. The eggs here were out-of-this-world, enormously golden orange yokes poached to perfection. At the risk of sounding like a broken record from previous posts, I hate non runny eggs and poached eggs with overcooked yolks are a sacrilege (this explains why I refuse to step foot at Bangsar’s Plan B – RM 16 for well done poached eggs, I don’t think so). 

I cannot have an eggs benedict or florentine without missing this lovely lady. Our egg-scapades powered us through catchups on life, morning-afters bitching about how all men in the world suck (or were sweethearts depending on the day), weekend escapes from insane flatmates, and celebrations such as Will and Kate’s nuptials, where she made gorgeous homemade eggs benedict in our little commoner’s party for the royals. 

When making eggs benedict or florentine at home, I tend to tweak the recipe to make the dish a tad less sinful. I cannot bring myself to make my own hollandaise sauce knowing how much butter and additional egg yolks are required. My version of hollandaise uses natural yoghurt and dijon mustard for a similar creamy sauce with a tangy hit. The spinach is also cooked in the sauce for extra lusciousness. When I’ve made this recently, a wholemeal roll was used as base because for some reason English muffins bought in Malaysia taste a tad cardboard like? The eggs you see below were poached using a nifty device from John Lewis that are meant to be quite easy to use. The eggs sit in the pouch, hovering over a pot of boiling water. Before you know it, ben’s your uncle and you should technically have poached perfection. I don’t seem to have a problem with the runny yolks, it’s more the egg formation that can get extremely messy even with additional help. Lucky for me, cameras can hide certain angles. I will not say more. I have officially added ‘perfectly poach an egg’ to my list of things to do before turning 35 to compensate. 

No competition to Raoul’s but still a reminder of our lovely food quests and catchups. To our foodie adventures, weekend brekkies are not the same without you Nana. 

Eggs Florentine

Basic Ingredients
Two eggs, wholemeal roll, spinach, half an onion, 1/2 cup natural yoghurt, 2-3 tsp dijon mustard, half a lemon, olive oil, salt & pepper, spring onions to garnish.

The Preparation
1. Poach eggs (or in my case attempt to poach eggs).

2. Make the sauce by sautéing onions with olive oil. When onions start to brown add natural yoghurt and dijon mustard. Season. Before sauce is about to boil, squeeze in lemon juice and reserve some sauce to pour over the eggs.
3. Add spinach leaves to remaining sauce in pan. When leaves have wilted take off the heat.
4. To assemble place a layer of the spinach mixture on top of a halved, toasted roll. Top with poached egg, drizzle extra sauce, and garnish with chopped spring onions.
5. Serve with a simple side salad of spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes.  

I choose life.

Quinoa with grilled tomatoes & caramelised onions and grilled halloumi
Grilled prawns with avocado & rocket salad
Being in a new environment, on a number of recent occasions I have found myself in the position of defending my approach to a holistic lifestyle to reassure everyone that I am not a mental nutcase with control issues. Yes, I admit my dedication to healthy eating, running, and yoga dictates my choices, how I spend my free time, and the social decisions I make. These three integral elements define who I am so they are naturally going to take priority over other things around me. However, I reject all accusations of me being a ‘health/fitness freak’ in that obsessive calorie counting ‘I’m going to spend hours at the gym and not eat anything until I lose weight’ attitude. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that my love for food means that I can eat like a horse. A very hungry race horse. In fact, portion control is probably something I need to work on in 2012! 

Rather than focusing on a weight loss goal or having abs (or buns) of steel, I make conscious decisions on what I eat and what I do with my spare time because it is a lifestyle choice. It boils down to the simple fact that healthy, home cooked eating and exercise makes me feel better. It gives me focus and a passionate drive. Despite years of growing up in a nutrition centric household (to this very day condensed milk is banned from our home), this epiphany was inspired when I discovered running and yoga. With regular practise of both activities you become more attune to every single tingle and sensation (both good and bad) that your body exudes. Having this strong awareness encourages me to actively choose foods that will help nourish me to make me stronger, spark positive energy, and achieve a greater sense of clarity. 

I love having like-minded people who share this attitude and find it inspiring to be able trade healthy recipes and workout advise (funny, I would have never thought there would be that many similarities between yoga and circuit training!). For a recent recipe swap dinner, I introduced a dear friend of mine to the joys of quinoa by cooking the grain with roasted tomatoes and caramelised onions, topped with grilled halloumi. A side salad of grilled shrimps with rocket and avocado, along with grilled lebanese bread to mop up any juices completed the dinner. We experimented with the food layout to show that you can recreate restaurant style meals using wholesome ingredients prepared lovingly from your kitchen. See, healthy eating does not equate to food depravation (that is fad diet territory). It is about choosing the right mix of nourishing ingredients to create a delicious, filling, and nutritious meal. And I’m going to continue down this path so that I will still be happily doing headstands and ‘mental’ running sessions for the next 10, 20, and hopefully 30 years. 

‘Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.’
-lululemon

Healthy can be pretty – Quinoa with roasted tomatoes and caramelised onions topped with grilled halloumi

Grilled prawns with avocado and rocket

The Ingredients:
Quinoa & halloumi: 1 cup of quinoa, chicken stock, red onions, cherry tomatoes, dried italian herbs, cumin, paprika, salt & pepper, olive oil, halloumi

Prawn salad: prawns, olive oil, chill flakes, avocado, rocket leaves, and for the dressing – lemon juice, dijon mustard, salt & pepper, olive oil

The Preparation:
Quinoa & halloumi

1. Sautee onions with olive oil and a pinch of salt until onions have caramelised. Set aside.
2. Halve cherry tomatoes and sprinkle with italian herbs and a pinch of salt. Roast and set aside.
3. Cook quinoa with chicken stock and cumin. When grains are cooked sprinkle paprika.
4. Combine all ingredients above into the quinoa.
5. Grill halloumi – the trick to ensure the cheese does not stick onto the pan is making sure that you place the sliced cheese on a very hot pan.
6. Top grilled halloumi on quinoa mixture. 

Grilled prawn salad
1. Marinate prawns in olive oil and chilli flakes. Set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Grill prawns until they turn a coral pink and serve on a bed of rocket and chopped avocados.
3. For the dressing whisk olive oil, lemon juice, djion mustard, salt & pepper. Drizzle over salad.

Saved by the crouton

DIY garlic & Parmesan croutons
It is a crappy feeling when you have resigned to the fact that work has taken over your life. Everyday is an ongoing battle of desperately trying to hold on to the things that keep me sane and not letting what I do for a living completely overwhelm me. One too many canceled plans and missed yoga classes are frustrating, but I’m trying my best to wash it all away with a smile, considering I am in the position that I am in based on choices that I have made for myself.

So what does one do to forcefully chisel that smile onto your face to avoid the urge to break things when you are pulled into yet another late nighter, canceling the millionth yoga class? I cook. Yes, even at 2 am in the morning. In London I was always able to overcome any feelings of rage by running around Regents’ Park because it was safe to run at any time of the day/night (I have been guilty of a few midnight runs). In Malaysia however, this approach would run the risk of me dropping off the face of the universe, which at this point sounds like a rather viable option (just kidding, I think). So in the absence of running or yoga, I turn to the kitchen. Cooking at rather insane hours of the night is my form of defiance, to regain control and prove that I am still able to do the things I love, despite the doom and gloom of career pulling the strings.

Tonight after finally managing to leave the office a little past midnight, rather than go to bed feeling angry, disappointed, or frustrated, I decided to embark on a little escapism project of turning a leftover baguette into homemade croutons. Croutons are one of those food extras that are much more convenient when bought in-store. Life is already short and with so many other main meals to cook, who wants to waste time cutting up stale bread to turn into little cubes that are just a condiment to a salad? Despite this, I actually prefer making them. Most shop bought croutons are fried, whereas making my own means I can bake the bread (healthier!) and experiment with different flavours and seasonings. Tonight’s crunchy gems have had a sprinkling of garlic, paprika, Parmesan and dried Italian herbs to add a Mediterranean twist to any simple salad. And they did not take that long to make – I started at 1.30, was done by 2.00 am, and am about to crawl into bed as soon as I finish this writeup. Calm. Content. Who needs a life when you have a golden jarful of DIY croutons in your kitchen cupboard?

Garlic & Parmesan croutons

The Ingredients
Any bread will do, I used a baguette (good to use bread that is a day or two old for the extra crunch), olive oil, garlic, dry Italian mixed herbs, paprika, grated Parmesan.

The Preparation
1. Mix olive oil, garlic, mixed herbs, paprika and 1/2 of the Parmesan into a bowl.

2. Cut bread into squares and add to bowl.
3. Bake at 300 degrees for about 15 minutes. When bread is golden brown, pour remaining Parmesan. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Just like the old days part 2

Pak choi, egg noodle & sesame salad with grilled prawns
I finally watched ‘Midnight in Paris’ and what a beautiful film. I found myself falling in love with the city as the movie unfolded despite initial resistance (what can I say, I’m a cynic who thinks the hype that Paris is the epicenter of romance and culture is highly overrated!). The film touches on a number of themes but the storyline I resonated the most with was the lead character (played by Owen Wilson) and his fascination, awe, and almost childlike wonderment with Paris. I have always felt that my most important relationship in the last 8 years was not the usual boy-girl romance. The one true love of my life during my twenties was my London town. And what a true love it was – there was passion, excitement, laughter, tears, goosebump inducing magical moments, comfort in silence, and also intense disagreements (oh how I did get my ass royally kicked on a number of times). Just like the beautiful relationships where the connection transcends the superficial and you never stop falling in love, the best part was the endless new discoveries and never ending inspiration. But like some of the most memorable relationships, we loved deeply before painfully parting our separate ways.

Like Owen Wilson’s character, I loved to walk around London. This was when deep connections were cemented as the city unveiled its true self. London never failed to surprise me. Almost every corner turned revealed a new discovery. I really do miss being able to walk aimlessly without a plan. It is a sense of liberating escapism knowing that you can walk out your front door, not knowing your path or where you will end up. An early Saturday morning walk to buy a loaf of bread along the vomit paved streets of Kentish Town (I say this with my rose-tinted nostalgia glasses on, reminiscing puke lined streets – we Kentish Town-ers had a good time on the weekends!), could detour to a quirky cafe in Camden for brunch, lying on the grass with a book on Primrose Hill, and before you know it, you’ve somehow strolled up Haverstock Hill to the lovely Hampstead to watch a show at the historic Everyman Theatre, with loaf of bread still intact of course. These walks were a celebration of random, inspiring moments and no one appreciated this more than one of the members of the lovely London foursome. Both of us will always carry a torch for our London town.

The recipe that I’m dedicating to her is actually one of her own. Interestingly, I have always thought this dish best exemplifies her unique sense of adventure and appreciation for all things random. Her excitement towards discoveries, whether a new song, movie, stumbling on a lovely unknown part of a city, or the oh-my-god moment at finding delicious new food, is so incredibly refreshing. In the spirit of randomness, the salad comprises of an unusual mix of Asian ingredients, brought to life by a Western dressing. Raw pak choi (yes this is possible!) and uncooked egg noodles make the foundations of the salad. The dressing, comprised of red wine vinegar, olive oil and sesame oil, is poured over the raw ingredients to help soften the egg noodles. This is lovely as a side salad on its own or can be made into a more substantial meal with the addition of protein (I included grilled prawns). The composition is quite bizarre yet intriguing as under normal circumstances you would never consider using uncooked pak choi or egg noodles. Together. But somehow, the flavours fuse brilliantly and it just works. This has been one of my favourite kitchen discoveries. 

Nidsters, here’s to always finding those accidental moments of enlightenment.

Pak choi, egg noodle & sesame salad with grilled prawns

The Ingredients
For the salad:  Pak choi, egg noodles, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, sesame seeds, flaked almonds.
For the dressing: 2 tbsp Olive oil, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 6 tbsp red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
For the prawns: unshelled prawns, lemon juice, red chili, salt and pepper.

The Prep
1. Chop pak choi and shred egg noodles into a bowl.

2. Add halved cherry tomatoes, sliced spring onions, and toasted sesame seeds and almond flakes.
3. Mix dressing ingredients together, pour over salad and let this rest so the red wine vinegar has time to ‘cook’ or soften the egg noodles.
4. To make the prawns, marinate prawns with lemon juice, chopped red chili, salt, and pepper. Grill.
5. Top salad with grilled prawns. 

Turning over a new leaf

Oatmeal porridge with nuts and berries
24th June. 42 km. Exactly 24 weeks to prepare myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. One of the things on my to-do-list before turning 35 is to run two full marathons. The 16 year-old version of myself, who might I add was horrifically bad at ALL sports, would have had a heart attack knowing that out of all the aspirations to have in the world, running marathons makes the bucket list. Whatever happened to the good old simple dream of having a nice family, house, and job? I guess I have always prioritised things slightly differently than most people. I picked up running in my mid twenties and since then have been hooked to the focus, endurance, and clarity that each run provides.

The marathon bug kicked in last year when I went to watch the annual London marathon. I was absolutely mesmerised by what I consider a prime example of the spirit of humanity at its very best. Young and old were determined to complete a task that challenges the very core of your willpower. The most beautiful part of the day however was being immersed in the positive energy of the crowd cheering, supporting, and encouraging completely random runners. I found myself in tears several times, knowing that the spirit of genuine, compassionate brother/sisterhood albeit rare nowadays, still exists.

I participated in my first half marathon in October 2011 and now I am setting my sights on completing the full 42 km. The mere thought that the upcoming run will be double in length of what I considered a challengingly ass-kicking run last October is enough to make me question my own sanity level. Unlike some people, I’m not a natural born runner – it’s something that I have to work very hard at. So to ensure that I perform the best I possibly can, I have chosen to embark on a slight lifestyle change to allow me to focus on training to improve my run. Unfortunately this will mean hanging up my club night dancing shoes and going completely teetotal for a little while. Over the past years, I have been able to crawl into bed at 6am on a Saturday morning and still manage a lengthy run later in the afternoon. Recently though (I blame age!), I do find that after a night out, my running session is more torturous as my throbbing head violently resists enduring another bout of further head and heart pounding pain.

I will of course miss dancing away to my favourite tunes and the calming effects of a glass of vino at the end of a long work week, but to be honest I am looking forward to being more health-centric for the next couple of months. More sleep and not ingesting twenty packs worth of cigarette smoke actually sounds like bliss. It will be nice not waking up reeking of ciggie smoke, feeling that the stench has permeated every inch of your skin and all items of clothing that you own (they really need to start banning smoking in clubs/indoors/in-general-period in KL!).

So to mark my turning over a new leaf, I started my morning with a heartwarming bowl of oatmeal porridge. This is normally not my first choice for brekkie after a night out but otherwise I am a hardcore porridge loyalist. Porridge was my best friend in London – knowing that I would eventually sit down to a bowl of warm goodness was what got me through freezing cold winter morning runs. Oats are a great source of endurance for runners. As a complex carbohydrate with high amounts of soluble figure, it releases energy slowly avoiding the highs and lows that can result from eating other foods with fast energy release. This keeps you fuller for longer, while nourishing you with its high levels of vitamins and minerals. Porridge also reduces the build up of bad cholesterol thus ensuring a healthy heart and is known to have mood enhancing effects. Combine this with the endorphin releasing buzz triggered from running, it is definitely a great way to start the day on positive note.

Plain porridge oats (I am not a fan of sugar laden flavoured options) may be a wee bit bland so I tend to add on berries, nuts, raisins, a drop of honey and some cinnamon to liven things up. So with each bite of this nourishing goodness, I say farewell (temporarily of course) to the dance-floor-loving me and look forward to the next few months of a more focused, healthier, and stronger version of myself.

Goodness in a bowl – porridge oats

Basic Ingredients
Porridge oats (I prefer organic wholegrain oats instead of instant oats), semi-skimmed milk, honey, cinnamon, berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries), mixed nuts (hazelnut, walnuts), raisins, dried cranberries 

The Prep
1. Measure 1 small cup of porridge into a pot. Using the same cup, add in one and a half cups of milk. There is not an exact science to this as some people like their porridge drier while others prefer more milk. I would suggest starting off with less milk and then you can always add more of the porridge dries up.
2. Add in a teaspoon of cinnamon
3. Porridge is done when most of the milk is absorb – again this is based on preference of how you like your porridge. If porridge looks to dry, you can add more milk. Take off the heat and add a drop of honey, berries, nuts, raisins, cranberries.