Archive for May, 2009

chinese patternPeking Duck is a dish that signifies a special treat or a special occasion. It is one of my favorites, and on my recent trip to Asia, I had the opportunity to enjoy it in Johor Bahru.

We ordered Peking Dish at the Lotus Garden Restaurant, a fine dining, halal, Chinese restaurant at the Zon Regency Hotel. The restaurant also offers great service and some seating have lovely views of the sea. We were there to celebrate the birthdays of two family members and  to spend time together, so it was both a culinary treat and a special occasion.

It is said that the Peking Duck dates back to China’s imperial era. One of the essential aspects of Peking Duck is the skin. The skin must be thin, crispy, and glistening deep brown in color. An important step in the preparation process is to pump air into the duck to separate the skin from the fat. This enables the skin to take on its thin, crispy texture during roasting.

Ordering Peking Duck is like ordering crepe suzette at a restaurant. The drama of the preparation is part of the pleasure and ritual of the dish. The duck is presented to the diners at a side table or cart.  This was done at the Lotus Garden. A member of the staff expertly carved the bird, while we looked on in anticipation.

The individual servings were also assembled at the cart. Each thin, white pancake was filled with slices of the skin and meat, stalks of spring onion and a sauce, which was like hoisin sauce. They were served with a small dish of extra dipping sauce. The combination of flavors and textures was quite exquisite.

I find it interesting that Peking Duck is served with the thin, white pancakes in Singapore and Malaysia, while in the United States, it is usually served with buns which, I’m told by a friend, is the way this dish is served in China. For me, it’s hands down for the thin pancakes.

As is the usual custom when one orders Peking Duck, the diner would be asked how would he or she like the rest of the bird to be served. One of the popular ways is to stir-fry the meat with noodles. But my uncle was keen to have the meat cooked in spicy black pepper sauce. We agreed to his adventurous suggestion, and we were not disappointed.

We also had several other dishes such as Sizzling Tofu and Vegetables and Braised Venison Ribs which we really enjoyed. We ended the meal  with a perfectly done classic dessert of Chinese pancake with red bean filling.

Peking Duck combines flavors and textures.

Peking Duck combines flavors and textures.

Part of the pleasure is the carving of the duck at the table.

Part of the pleasure is the carving of the duck at the table.

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My opinion is no, and I’m giving the reasons, purely on the basis that I’m speaking to a person who has fallen down in life, and is still struggling to get up again. I would say this to Vick:

Despite the din from those who hold an opposing view, there are folks who think you have paid your dues, and you get a second chance to rebuild your life. After all, you went from a millionaire to a felon, lost almost everything.

Now it’s time to move on. Some in the media say you are desperate to repair your image, and therefore you see the opportunity to work with the Humane Society, in a role that will deter youngsters from getting involved in dogfighting, as a positive one. I disagree with you.

I believe that coming out of this episode, you need to regain your self dignity and self worth so that you can move forward. Why should you go around parading your mistakes and your past in the public eye? Think what this will do to your self esteem. While you learn from past mistakes, you also need to leave it all behind to make this difficult and huge leap to the next chapter in your life.

The New York Times reported that Wayne Pacelle, Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Society of the United States, already has doubts about you: “I’m not convinced that Mike is completely turned around,” he said, “and I’m not convinced that he’s going to make the most of this opportunity. But I do think he should have a chance to demonstrate that he is changed and that he can be part of the solution. Call me a participating skeptic.”

That is not a good sign. Do you really want to continue to be humiliated?

You were probably advised by your lawyers and agents that by working or volunteering with an animal rights group, this will facilitate your reentry into NFL if a team wants you. Do you really buy that, Mike? You can contribute to end dogfighting every single day, you can flagellate yourself very day in public. But if a team owner thinks you would be more a liablity than an asset, and that you would affect their income negatively, they would not take you in, no matter what you do to show your remorse.

Think of Isaiah Washington when he was alleged to have used an anti-gay slur on the set of Grey’s Anatomy. He apologized and went for counseling. But the show still dumped him after that.

From your perspective, it is probably very hard to imagine making your livelihood other than through football. You were very good at it, and it’s probably your passion. But you have got to be realistic; you might have to leave your athletic career behind.

There are thousands of things being said about you and to you as you serve your probation. But ultimately, it’s your life. At 29, there is still so much life ahead.

Don’t let others use you for their own agenda. Assess every advice wisely, and rely only on family and friends who were still there for you when you hit bottom. Think of yourself first, and only agree to do whatever is in your best interest, and that which will help, and not hinder you, as you move (as we all must) into the future.

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noteHow many times have you spotted a piano in  the homes that you visited in the recent past? Probably not that many, at least according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

In the article “The piano’s  status in U.S. living rooms is declining” published last week, Mary MacVean writes: “The piano has been the center of many American homes for generations, not only a proclamation of a love of music but also often a statement about striving for success.

“In a very traditional sense, the piano did stand for something. It was a symbol of mobility, moving up,” especially among immigrant families, said Joe Lamond, president of the International Music Products Assn., based in Carlsbad and known as NAMM. Some real estate agents still will move a piano into a house that’s for sale to class it up, he said.”

MacVean cites various reasons for the piano’s decline in status. One reason is that today there are so many other ways to make and listen to music such as with electronic keyboards and digital instruments, and headphones. These are less expensive than playing the piano. Additionally, children have many other activities that compete for their time and effort.

Growing up in Asia, I remember that the piano was also a status symbol. A home with a piano was an unspoken indicator that the family had money. In denser neighborhoods, you could hear the notes of the piano from a home nearby drifting to your window. On some sunny mornings, the clinking of harmonious notes added a nice touch to the enjoyment of the day. But some days, when you heard notes being practiced repeatedly or off-key, it could be annoying.

When I read that article, I thought about another piece of furniture that seems to be in decline in many living rooms. I believe it is not so common nowadays to have a bookshelf in the living room. By and large, it has been replaced by an entertainment center.

As an avid reader, I think it’s kind of sad as I feel that books, like decorative accessories, make a house a home. There is in fact, an art to arranging books, interspersed with decorative objects, that will enhance the appearance and comfort of a room.

But more than that, when you walk into a living room with a bookshelf,  you immediately get a sense of the occupant’s interests from the books displayed. And that acts as a starting point to get to know people better. Let’s hope the bookshelf will not exit its way out of the living room, in the same manner as the piano.

The piano symbolized success. (Photo from Los Angeles Times)

The piano symbolized success. (Photo from Los Angeles Times)

The bookshelf reveals one's interests. (Photo from www.bhg.com)

The bookshelf reveals one's interests . (Photo from http://www.bhg.com)

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tiaraWhen I read about the Miss California saga, I am reminded of Vanessa Williams, a former Miss America. I wonder what would she think of all this.

Let’s juxtapose the two situations. On May 12, Donald Trump announced that Miss California Carrie Prejean gets to keep  her state crown, despise the release of semi-nude photos. It was reported earlier that the pageant contract Prejean signed had a clause stating that the discovery of semi-nude photos could mean disqualification.

Trump, who owns the Miss Universe organization said that  the photos did not violate her contract as Miss California.

In 1984, Vanessa Williams won the Miss America title. But soon after, she was forced to turn in her crown after Penthouse magazine published nude photos of her. For some people, there is a perception of a double standard, as Miss Williams is African-American. But perhaps it is more of corporate America at work here. Maybe, Trump feels that more publicity can be generated by letting her stay.

But Vanessa Williams turns out to be a woman made of pretty strong stuff. She picked herself up. She reinvented herself,  and carved a successful singer career. In 1989, she was awarded the NAACP Image Award, and was given a standing ovation by the audience. She also launched her acting career and remains  a successful and respected artiste till this day.

Somehow, I don’t think Miss California will have such resilience and staying power, despite given the break by Trump. I mean, how many people actually remember her real name? I did an informal survey, and found that when talking about this issue, people mostly refer to her as Miss California, and not by her name. And besides she seems to be quite a whiner.

Let’s see if  her 15 minutes of fame will translate to something bigger, or will it fizzle out in the near future.

Miss California gets a break.

Miss California gets a break.

Vanessa Williams made her own second chance.

Vanessa Williams made her own second chance.

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(Photo from howstuffworks.com)

(Photo from howstuffworks.com)

The firefly colonies along the Kuala Selangor River in Malaysia may face destruction soon, it was reported in the news this week.

AFP reports: “If we do not do anything, the lights will go out for the fireflies by the end of the year,” said Elizabeth Wong, who heads tourism and environmental affairs in the state of Selangor, which surrounds Malaysia’s capital.

Wong said environmental groups had alerted the state government to the “impending destruction” of the riverside firefly colony, which lies about 90 minutes’ drive from Kuala Lumpur.

Tourists flock to the area to watch the fireflies, which cluster in riverside trees and produce a magical light display as males and females communicate.

Tour operators say the number of insects has fallen sharply because of development in the area.

Wong said that despite the region’s being declared a firefly sanctuary, almost 95 acres (38 hectares) of land along the Selangor river had been cleared of the trees in which fireflies live.”

This news impacted me emotionally as I visited the fireflies sanctuary some years back , and it was the one of the most enchanting nights that I have experienced.  (The name for firefly  in Bahasa Malaysia is kelip kelip which means ‘to twinkle’.)

We boarded a simple, wooden boat, and along the riverbanks, the fireflies clustered and twinkled on the trees. Visitors were requested to be quiet so as not to disturb the insects. “Nature’s own Christmas trees” was the description that came my mind.

In the stillness of the night, the only sounds being heard were the swishing of the oars against the water, we watched tree after tree of that magical display. A firefly landed on the boatman’s hand, and he beckoned us to take a closer look. We leaned forward and smiled at the sight of the little creature which created such beauty in groups.

In the report, Bert Che, senior executive with Firefly Park Resort, which organizes the river tours, was quoted as saying: “I hope everyone will treasure our fireflies. If we don’t, our next generation will not be able to see the insects.”

I’m sure many of us will support and hope that the fireflies population will be protected and saved.

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pony-_-cat3As Mother’s Day is celebrated throughout the world, women who do not have children may feel left out of the day’s celebrations. But I believe now there is a start towards an inclusion of women who are not mothers in the conventional sense.

After all, what is one of the most special attributes of a mother? A mother is a nurturer.

And most, if not all women, have the nurturer in us. If you have a pet, or grow plants, you are a Mom to these living things. If you are in a relationship, you nurture the hopes and aspirations  of your partner. And women nurture each other in our friendships and in our life journeys. We are there for each other, through good and hard times.

It’s human for some of us to feel a measure of sadness when we’re childless or missing our mothers on Mother’s Day. But instead, or at the same time, let’s celebrate the special quality we all share: that we nurture animals and people we love without expecting anything in return.

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