Satay Saturday

What do you do when you have a bunch of friends coming over for dinner on a warm Summer evening, and they are a well-travelled bunch who has tasted almost everything there is to eat – from Chinese to Japanese to Indian, and not to mention, the Italian invasion of every food Western? Well, I say you suffocate them with a gastronomic galore of traditional Malay food,or so I thought. The idea remains brilliant, until you realise that you have never actually MAKE ANY of the traditional dishes you have in mind, and in faraway-land like Canada – you can’t actually run to the nearby hawker centre to buy the food and present them as your own (like I know a LOT of people do in Singapore..hahaha). Suffice to say that I dug myself deep into the holes of possible food disasters last weekend, but God saved me, I survived.

It all started with me wanting to treat a bunch of friends here to good ol’ Malay food last Saturday. DH and myself were gung-ho on planning the menu from day one. On one Wednesday night, DH whipped up his trusty clipboard, paper and pen during dinner – just to plan what we are going to serve to our friends so that I can quickly draw up my grocery shopping. I had a feeling he took it like how he has to design software with his ideas, and was quite perturbed by the clipboard. Alas, we didn’t quite succeed in our planning discussion, as we were too busy walloping dinner. And to round it all off, I confidently told him,”Don’t worry, I will think of something easy”.Not.

The next day, I was on a one-hour drive crossing over the US to visit a family friend in a hospital, with 2 lovely aunties. As luck would have it, we were stuck in overwhelming traffic for an hour at the border, so when you put a bunch of Singaporeans and ex-Singaporeans together – what do you talk about? No guesses,food.

They found out very quickly that I was yet to plan what to serve my guests on Saturday- and the suggestions on what to serve came fast and furious. There were many dishes thrown into the pot,many of which accompanied by oohs and aahs with the frequent slurping and harmonic renditions of “oooo sedapnyaaa…”.But none stuck to my head as much as ‘satay’ and ‘rendang’ did. Everything else was a blur. The fact that I have NEVER made satay (I made rendang once before, minus the kerisik though) was obviously also a blur to me.

It is a number ONE no-no to serve your guests something you have never made before.But the recalcitrant me just had to do it anyway (did I tell you my mum said I was born in a huge thunderstorm, and when I came out – the storm stopped? I blame the roaming electricity in the air for my stubborness. Serious). I did a quick search on the Net and found some recipes for rendang and satay. I was not sure which one to choose, so I used my gut feeling on which one would taste the best. I read the recipes diligently.Over and over again.

Boo-boos were aplenty. I read ’10 ulas bawang besar’ as 10 BIG red onions. It was supposed to be shallots. And thus my satay gravy was slightly bitter, and I had to make a long-distance call to my sister to ask her on how to repair my damaged gravy.

I bought 10 pounds of meat (chicken and beef) to make satay to feed 10 people, but that amount can easily feed an entire street of homeless folks for a day. I thought hey, with me and DH sticking the meat on the satay sticks together, we would finish the 10 pounds of meat pretty fast. Boy, were we wrong. We completed our satay-assembly task only at 3 am the night before the dinner.I had to YM Nazrah too to check if I have to put star anise in my satay gravy (or was it rendang?) and thank God that cooking queen was still awake.

Years of university did me no good. Suddenly, I don’t seem to be able to read. I thought I bought a packet of Tumeric Powder, dashed it into my chicken meat marinate – and realised later that the words on the packet said TAMARIND Powder. My chicken satay was a tad tamarind-ish, but it turned out to be a pretty good marinate!

By some grace, all the food turned out delicious. I worked up my guests’ appetite by making them pick some fresh sweet yellow plums from our backyard, and by the time they filled up their fruit bowl – they were famished 🙂 Good trick, yes?

You know the maths. When you are hungry, anything on the table will taste good.

Being skeptical

I am a skeptical queen.

Whenever someone approaches me and try to sell an idea, I will be the first to list a long roll of why it would not work, and reaffirm the often-not-very-popular notion that every idea is fallible. To me the concept of an ‘idea’ is cheap, until it is being executed and achieve its desired affect.

So yesterday was one of the days when the execution of an idea first make known to me in 2005, was presented right in the face. Last year, SJ, a friend who had also made Canada her home, was the first to tell me how exciting it was to be involved in the first Canadian Islamic Cultural Expo in downtown Vancouver. It sounded exciting too – the idea of showcasing what Canadian Muslims are about – specifically the diversity of their different cultures via their countries, is enticing. But, I was skeptical.

When I arrived in Canada this year, I was quickly introduced to the organisers to help them out. I went for the first meeting, and keep abreast of their email exchanges. It was not long that I began to compare notes.

Almost fresh from helping out at another similar expo in Singapore (one that showcased the different Malay-Muslim organisations in Singapore), I had a scoreboard of standards that I am used to in how Singapore executes an idea. There, there will be committees and sub-committees, and then more sub-committees. Every sub-com has a task force of its own, and everyone has to deliver or risk meeting the axe, or worst – being known as the unreliable one.

With all that in my head, I was not very impressed with the fluid way the Canadian expo was being organised, or so it seems. I forgot, that the difference between the Singaporean and Canadian guys is money. The Singaporeans were paid (a handsome sum of money) to organise their expo, while the Canadians were lending their time and energy in kind. They all have full time jobs, and yet work tirelessly to present a much-misrepresented dogma to the Western world.That is, a tough call.

I chose to be involved in the event yesterday only within what I consider a minimal level – handling the press and filming the event for the organiser’s documentation. I hired a small crew with the small budget that the organisers can afford, and with the help of another journalist, YT, we started filming our interviews.

In between the hectic day, I noticed there were tonnes of visitors from both the Muslims and non-Muslim crowd. Some came with dogs, and it was a sight to see a man reading intently the 99 names of Allah in one of the tents, with a beautiful dog sitting quietly beside him. No one looked at the man differently, or try to get him out of the way. I even got to know Rica, a gorgeous-looking Husky. This is Vancouver after all, diversity-extraordinaire and where discrimination is a bad word.

It happened that yesterday was the day when an anti-US lobby decided to hold its street demonstration. So for a while, we had groups of Frankestein-looking men sauntering into the expo, to depict the victims of war. It was a sight – in between hijabis, men with dogs and curious visitors, we had ghostly characters weaving into the crowd. I wished they stopped by the Muslims and Science tent though.

Amidst my own skepticism, the event was a success. Every single media was there to cover it, and yes, it left me busy. Almost headless, I must say. But beyond the colourful cultural displays of every country, the myriad of visitors and the information about Islam being disbursed, I was struck by the sincerity of the volunteers who made the event happen, regardless if they do it well or not by whatever standards.

I was glad I helped out even at the last minute, and now, I must say I was proud yesterday I made Canada my adopted home.

PS: Remember the posting when the Canadian Anthem in an ice-hockey game recently made me cry, and feel oh-so-very-kelong towards beloved Singapore? I found the video online,and here it is. You will know why I end up screaming ‘O Canada we stand on guard…for theeee!!!” loudly with the crowd. The only difference is, I was in my living room.Damn.

O’ San Francisco!

There are only a few cities in the world I’ve visited that have the pulse and energy I can hardly race, and San Francisco is one of them. The rhythm of this West Coast city is always a thump ahead, and I can hardly catch up.

Determined to make this second visit as local as I can, I dumped the idea of renting a car to get around. DH had a WWDC conference by Apple to attend (read ‘geek convention’) and so me and SB, whose husband is a co-worker of DH attending the same conference, decided to tag ourselves along. We educated ourselves on all the various transport modes available in San Fran, bought a USD$24 all-in-one pass, and then ride ourselves silly with the cable cars, trains, historic street cars and electric trolleys.

I didnt quite enjoy the throngs of summer tourists weaving their way near the hotel where we stayed, but I enjoyed the various shades of characters that SF had to offer. The first time I was here, it was way back in 1998 – and SF was the first city in our cross-1/3 US road trip then. I was impressed by the bay, the Fisherman’s Wharf and the Alcatraz, and none of the rhythmic pulse of the city caught my attention then. This time, it felt as if someone just blasted loud, hip-hop music and by that, SF literally had blues band jamming away in some corner of a busy intersection, complete with a drum set and fully-plugged speakers.

However, the highlight of my trip had to be Ely. It was a joy to be able to spend not one, but 3 evenings with her. I kidnapped her 12-year old daughter for a day so that we can all go to the Titanic Artifacts exhibition at the Sony Metreon together, and I must have exhausted her out of walking around downtown in and out of stores and cafes! That poor girl also had to tolerate my silly antics, corny jokes and obsession with the camera, which is my killer strategy to embarass the hell out of a teenager. Hee.

Ely is as cheerful and bubbly as I remembered her to be, and looked radiant with a baby girl in her tummy. We had a yummy Mediterannean lunch on the first day we met, an Indian dinner with the husbands and kid the same night, mocha and pastry on the 2nd night, and finally – a good ol’ American serving of pancakes and eggs with DH on the last night. Yes, that ‘breakfast’ meal was eaten at 7pm. She was pregnant, and I was having PMS. So there.

DH however, did not get to see as much of SF as I did. I am pretty sure he had a ball being in the audience watching Steve Jobs revealing Apple’s new OS, but other than that – I think the trip passed by as a quick blur to him. In between the sessions he and a few others had to slog the night away completing a project, and I don’t envy that. It is a grim reminder about my own long-evenings coming up in a couple of months, when nights will be trapped inside an editing room. Ah well, one of us have to pay for the Victoria Secrets’, no?

As we flew back the day after the US issued a Red security alert on air travel – I expected a tough time at the airport, being one cladded in a hijab. Other than the long queues to check in, none of that happened. I had a better time with the US securities than I did when I flew to Melbourne to cover F1 for EMC, just 9 mths after Sep 11. At that time, no one in the Australian immigration believed I was a journalist covering a bunch of boys racing fast cars. Sigh.

San Francisco is a must visit for those of you who love to travel independently,and not be entwined by touristy things. You can do the Fisherman Wharf and all that, but leave a lot of time to explore on your own. Get lost, ask questions and walk a lot. I guarantee that you will be planning your next trip there even before you reach the airport to go home.

Godiva Chocolate Cheese Cake – just for Nazrah