The pumpkin girl

Pumpkin soup
Societal labels are an interesting thing. Jock. Geek. Goth. Popular. Loser. Emo. Drama queen. We’ve all at some point or another have been wrongly or in some cases accurately defined by others. I myself am guilty of believing in these stereotypes sometimes. Looking back, those high school years were never my favourite. I went through a journey of labels – starting off from ‘the nerd with pink glasses’ in 8th grade, to ‘the shy and quiet girl’ in 10th grade, and somehow by the time I hit graduation, I had mysteriously evolved into ‘the angry goth girl’ (who got sent to the counselor for listening to Marilyn Manson).

To a certain extent labels make it easier to compartmentalise the people in your life. Sometimes a person’s quirky characteristics are better understood or are more relatable through simplified definitions. Recently a colleague of mine received a pumpkin from a client who was leaving the corporate world to venture into organic farming (lucky him). The pumpkin then went to live on my colleague’s desk for a week or two until her last day at work clear out, after which I was bestowed the honor of the organic pumpkin. She said confidently “you are the only person I know who would appreciate an organic pumpkin. You would know what to do with it. You’re the foodie. The pumpkin girl.” I would like to think that I have a close relationship with the people that I work with although the majority of them do not know me THAT well. Many of them do not even know about the existence of this blog. However it is a nice feeling that from what little they know of me, they automatically associate me with ‘Tasha the foodie’ or ‘Tasha the healthy food person’. The pumpkin girl. For once these are labels/associations that I openly embrace and welcome. I love knowing that food, wholesome home-cooked food, is so engrained in every part of me that it has become something that I automatically (and unconsciously) project in everything I do – what I say, how I act, the choices that I make – even to those who do not know me very well. This has become a defining part of who I am. 

So what did the pumpkin girl do with her organic pumpkin? Pumpkin soup of course.

Pumpkin Soup

The Basic Ingredients
One whole pumpkin, one leek stalk, 1 small potato, garlic onion, groups cumin, nutmeg, ground coriander, 1L chicken or veggie stock, olive oil, salt & pepper, creme fraiche and coriander to garnish.

The Preparation
1. Slice leeks, cube the pumpkin, dice the potato, and chop garlic and onion.

2. Sautee garlic and onion in olive oil.
3. Add the chopped veggies and cook with lid on until pumpkins are slightly tender.
4. Add stock and cook for 30 – 40 mins.
5. The pumpkin should be almost broken down at this stage, season, and remove from heat.
6. Blitz soup mixture in a blender.
7. Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche and a sprig of coriander. 

 

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A headstand a day…

Vietnamese prawn & dill soup
Keeps the doctor away. I don’t believe in falling sick. For the record, I don’t mean unfortunate (and cruel) medical illnesses that often strike without proper reason or purpose. I’m talking more about the niggling colds, flues, fevers and aches.

For a while now, I’ve shunned away from the idea of doctors or taking any form of medication (even paracetamol to sooth a sore head after a night out!). This is possibly a rebellious reaction to growing up in a family that believes Panadol is the miracle cure to everything (Me: ‘I think my heart is broken’ Parent: ‘Have a Panadol!’) After a bad experience of going through the winter flu several years ago by myself and regressing into shameful case of self pity à la Man Flu (the I-can’t-get out-of-bed-there-is-no-one-to-cook-for-me-my-life-is-miserable type whinging), I now try my best to prevent falling sick in the first place.

For the past year and a half, in addition to healthy eating, yoga has played a significant part in this. Apparently yoga practitioners are less likely to come down with the sniffles and on the rare case that they do, they have a much faster recovery rate. Yoga is known to regulate the immune system to keep it strong and healthy, allowing the body to withstand infections. Shirshasana (headstand) is possibly my favourite yoga pose – coming into it you really do see the world in a new light. Being upside down increases the amount of blood flowing to the head, creating a greater oxygen flow to the brain to reduce overall stress levels (a main contributor to the pesky cold/flues). Not wanting to jinx anything, I can safely say that I have not had a cold/flu or been on MC for the past year and a half.

So at any indication of feeling under the weather (like today’s annoying fever and ache), rather than pop a pill, I choose to go into headstand. Lots of water, sleep, and a bowl of Vietnamese Prawn & Dill Soup for dinner will also help. I love this recipe for when I feel the symptoms kicking in – its nourishing broth and abundance of veggies help revive the senses and remedy aches. The original recipe is from BBC Good Food, but I’ve tweaked this slightly to include more vegetables so that it becomes a nutritionally full-proof meal to kick the cold in the ass.  My  version includes broccoli since this nutrient-packed miracle food is known to help shield from illness/disease.

I really do believe that the right combination of foods, exercise, and a yoga class has more mileage than any guy in a white coat keen to write you off with a costly prescription of antibiotics for just about everything.

Vietnamese Prawn & Dill Soup

Basic Ingredients
Chicken stock, oyster mushrooms, prawns, dill, broccoli, fish balls (optional), 1 lime, quartered tomatoes, nampla, wild rice

The Prep
1. Heat chicken stock (can use chicken cube and water). Season.

2. Add in broccoli and cook until tender. Add oyster mushrooms, fish balls, grated lime peel, lime juice, splash of nampla, quartered tomatoes, chopped dill.
3. I add in the prawns last to avoid overcooking them.
4. Once soup starts boiling take off heat.
5. I usually serve this with some wild rice that I cook normally and just add this into the soup for a more satisfying meal. You can also use any type of noodles.


Scandi Kitchen

Pea & mint soup and Smoked salmon & avocado open sandwich
After a full-on weekend (actually more like a week!) of excessive celebratory eating like no tomorrow, it was time to practice some restraint for lunch today. Though I had to remind myself it is still technically the festive season and any proper detoxes are only allowed to start in the new year. Wanting something light but still self-rewarding, I turned to some of my favorite Scandinavian dishes for inspiration. 

One of the things on my bucket list before turning 35 is to spend six months to a year traveling through the Nordic region, soaking up the culture, food, languages, and yes the freezing cold winds. I was lucky enough to work on a Danish/Swedish dairy brand at my last agency and was delightfully introduced into a world that has the right attitude towards work, life, family, and food. Not only do offices shut for a period of two to three months during the summer to allow everyone a proper holiday, on a daily basis my clients start work promptly at 8am and leave the office by 5pm so they can spend the evenings with their families. I once called a client, panicking about artworks that needed sign off, only to be told “Tasha, I’m swimming in the lakes with my children. No one is dying, this can wait until tomorrow.” When I was ill and working from home, I used to get messages FROM CLIENTS telling me to stop checking my emails and rest.  Quite a contrast to the “I wanted that due yesterday, sort that for me now or all hell will break loose” attitude that I have the joy of dealing with now in Asia. Intrigued by this balanced approach to life, I made sure to absorb as much as I could during my client/market visits to the region. When my sister wanted to escape to Europe for a holiday, Stockholm was our immediate choice. We even embarked on an adventure to hunt down the Northern Lights in Kiruna, Sweden’s northern most town. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, despite trying not to freeze our tropical Malaysian butts off when temperatures plummeted to -38 degrees Celsius while we snowmobiled across magical Hans Christian Andersen fairytale-like forests and frozen lakes.  

And not forgetting the lovely food! I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Swedish/Scandinavian cooking but I absolutely love what I know of it. Most people think Scandi food and automatically blue/yellow images of Ikea canteens and meatballs come to mind. However, it’s so much more than plastic trays and balls of meat. Scandi food is a world that celebrates local produce, exotic fruits, seasonal vegetables (the absolute joy of Autumn and chanterelles), wholegrain/rye everything (you’re not a freak if you like wholegrain pasta!), healthy snacking, light open sandwiches, smorgasbords of flavors that are perfect for entertaining, and fresh gloriously to-die-for seafood. Visiting the various Saluhallen (food halls), I was like a kid in a candy store – wide-eyed, salivating, and aww-ing at everything in plain sight, much to my sister’s embarrassment as she yelled out ‘get a grip, it’s just food you fatty!’ On a not-so healthy but still along the self-rewarding theme, the Swedes make the best kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). Unlike the sickly sweet American/English counterparts, one whiff of the spicy cinnamon is enough to transport you to images of a rustic, homely kitchen with a roaring fireplace and the kettle brewing. Now that’s what I call the ideal life. 

For today’s lunch, I decided on a classic open sandwich of smoked salmon and avocados, served with my mom’s recipe for pea soup. I like the concept of open sandwiches as it allows the filling combination of your favorite sarnie ingredients without being too heavy. The base tends to be made from rye bread, a Scandi staple. Rye bread has a large fibre content, with only little fat and has the added bonus of not creating spikes in blood sugar in the way that other breads (especially white!!) do.  

Assembling the sandwich took about 3 minutes but was an enjoyable process (the soup I made beforehand and froze). I was quite excited about the fact that the rocket leaves used were organic and grown from my very own garden! My dad has a green thumb and has been experimenting with growing different vegetables and herbs as a slight acceptance to his daughter’s neurotic approach to healthy eating. If only we could grow avocados since ripe, ready-to-eat ones require a bit of hunting in KL. Village Grocer in Bangsar Village I seems to be the only supermarket in town that has individual ripe avocados that you can buy to eat on the day itself. Smoked salmon also tends to be an extravagance here, at a wallet burning RM 20 for a pack that will get you just through two servings.  But hey, it’s still the festive season and I’ve had a long year that has kicked my ass slightly so when it comes to healthy food indulgences, some things are absolutely worth it. 

Pea & Mint Soup

Smoked Salmon & Avocado Open Sandwich

Basic Ingredients
For the pea soup: 1 cup frozen peas, 2 leeks, 1 stalk of celery, onions, garlic, 1.5 – 2L chicken stock, mint leaves, creme fraiche

For the open sandwich: Smoked salmon, rye bread (my favourite brand is Biona but I can’t seem to find this in KL. Village Grocer does stock some German brand options), cream cheese, 1 avocado, rocket leaves, pepper, lemon wedges to serve.

The Prep
For the soup
1) Saute onions and garlic with olive oil. Add chopped leeks and celery and continue sautéing until translucent. Add frozen peas and mint leaves.
2) Add chicken broth, season, and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool.
3) Blitz soup and return to heat.
4) Stir in 1 – 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche and take off heat once soup starts to bubble. You can use single cream but I find creme fraiche less calorific.
5) Garnish with mint leaves.

For the open sandwich
1) Toast rye bread and spread cream cheese.
2) Top with sliced avocado, rocket, smoked salmon, black pepper
3) Serve with cherry tomatoes and lemon wedges on the side. 

For the morning after…

Ipoh kway teow soup
So simple yet so comforting, noodle soup has recently been my favourite go-to food in the aftermath of a night out, when everything still feels a little hazy and you’re struggling to get with the programme while cursing to yourself ‘never again!’ 

This non-judgmental and welcoming dish ensures a balanced recovery to soothe a sore head: a generous portion of carbs to soak up those pesky toxins, veggies to help replenish any lost brain cells, protein to lift lingering veils of cloudiness, and an inviting broth that not only re-hydrates but more importantly promises to wash away all notions of the world feeling like it’s about to end. With that said, as the festive season and celebrations approach, noodle soup trusty old friend, I’ll be seeing you again this weekend.

My version of Ipoh Kway Teow Soup

Basic ingredients
Kway teow noodles (you can substitute with rice vermicelli or egg noodles), balls of all sorts (squid, fish), tofu (I like using tofu skin), bean sprouts, kale, chicken, ginger, garlic, prawns, nampla (fish sauce), soy sauce, spring onions, red chillies. 

The path to recovery…
1.  Make the chicken broth by boiling chicken with ginger, garlic, salt and pepper. If you’re struggling to even form coherent thoughts then for the love of god, cheat – a chicken cube and boiling water will suffice. Once chicken is cooked, shred and keep aside.

2. Blanch noodles, kale, bean sprouts (all separately if possible!) 
3. To finish off the soup heat chicken broth and add all the fish balls, prawns and tofu. Add nampla and a splash of soy sauce to taste. Season. When you’re about to take this off the heat, add some sliced spring onions.
4. To assemble – fill your bowl with noodles and top with kale, bean sprouts. Ladle over the broth and finish off with fried onions and sliced chillies.
5. Go back to bed.