Sunday, May 31, 2009


We drove the 2 hour trip down to Malacca for a dear nephew's wedding and in between marriage ceremonies, feasts and the final wedding celebration we managed to squeeze out of the hotel and spill out onto Jonker street and the famous Red Square in charming, quaint and clean Malacca.

Curious and with an appetite for anything whimsical, old and historic and in search of some tangible memories that I can physically hold on to Jonker Street sounded perfect. My first visit and I was charmed. It was everything that I imagined it to be. Old world, bijou and unpretentious as it lay just there right across the Malacca river from the Red Square and the famous clock tower built 300 hundred years ago by Dutch conquerors.

The cradle of Malay civilization and awarded the World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2006 Malacca, as I see it, lives up to its name. Malacca is old, Malacca is historical, Malacca is well preserved and Malacca is clean. Every alley that we passed and peeped into, every village road that we wound around, every nook and edge of its modern buildings were spotless and every garden was well manicured. I was impressed.

But Jonker Street was my goal. For the few times that I have been to Malacca I have always missed Jonker Street. The Red Square, the A' famosa and museums were not on the itinerary this time and with very little time to spare our Jonker Street walk was quite a rush too. However I managed to snap glimpses of it in between dashes, walks and stops before rushing back to the hotel to change and freshen up for the wedding and these were what caught my eye.

As we crossed the bridge over the Malacca River a cruise boat sped by and I heard the monotone of a tourist guide giving a history lesson.

Past the river and this was the first shop we plunged into at the beginning of Jonker Street. Antiques, curios and some strange looking items.

Some strange looking items.

The old and the new, juxtaposed.

I must make a cake of that lovely aqua blue green!

Is this a secret garden locked and forbidden for some tragic reason? Or is this the work of an enthusiastic green fingered being? I was smitten.

Why do locked gates attract me so and especially one that guards a lush tropical garden behind it?

A tea house named after Admiral Cheng Ho. It must have seen better days I'm sure. But absolutely charming nevertheless.

These used bottles welcome you to a shop that sells dirty plates for expensive prices. I fingered an old brown English looking one in a tattered gritty cardboard box stuffed with some other broken and dank china. I yoo-hooed at the shopkeeper for the price. Being caught in an animated conversation at the front of the shop he didn't hear me or just didn't care and I was glad he didn't for I'm sure I wouldn't have bought it anyway. I was just being curious.

I remember some of these bottles as a child especially the F & N one but I'm not that old and dirty.

Ronaldo in Jonker Street!

Another one of those sovenior shops.

Love those dark, flappy wooden windows against the stark white of the wall and the crimson red of the shop next to it.

'O you shaggy-headed banyan tree standing on the bank of the pond,
Have you forgotten the little child,
Like the birds that have nested in your branches and left you ?.....'

From 'The Crescent moon' by Tagore

These things are begging for attention. It is a confusion between cowboy, Malacca and the Pasadena Flower Parade. How could I not take a picture. Or two.

A bazaar at the Red Square.

Part of the Stadthuys (pronounced 'stat-highs'), buildings built by the Dutch in the 1600's and said to have been painted a salmon red when the British took over. It was the administrative centre of the Dutch colonists and also housed the office and residence of it's governor all located at the Red Square. It is said that the Studthuys is the oldest remaining Dutch colonial building left in South East Asia.

The Clock Tower and Christ Church in the Red Square just about 200 meters from Jonker Street across the river.

Did I tell you that I bought 4 lovely coloured tablemats? Yes I did.

More about the Stadthuys here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


At last the wedding/hantaran/gift cake is DONE! Phew! What a month.

Am I happy with the cake? Well yes and no. I'm happy because I finished it decently, it was quite far from ugly and it was presentable. No, because it could have been better, I could have put in more thought into the smaller details especially the filler flowers and as always I found that the sides were not straight enough after I had covered it with the shows every time I wrap a ribbon around the cake and it would always be a tad wider at the base.

But on the whole I think I should pat myself on the back for the fact that I did not flounder and the mother of the groom, Kartini, my sis-in-law, was one very happy lady. That was all that mattered. And it survived the plane trip to Malacca on the eve of the wedding.

I had also made something which I have never made before....that is, a gum paste 'wave'. I had left that to the last minute because I thought it would be ridiculously easy. When I started fumbling and being unsatisfied with the results though I started becoming angry with myself for not trying it out weeks before. However after several panicky attempts I managed to turn out a couple of decent ones...and believe me it is not as easy as it looks or as I had imagined it to be!

My flower making only improved drastically towards the end by which time I began to slack off a little and out of pure laziness I resorted to buying smaller sized white sugar roses for good measure just in case I needed some extra roses. I ended up using only one of them on the final cake. It is the white one in the picture below. It's beautiful but it looks a little greyish/bluish in the picture. It was also slightly thicker than the ones I had made. I also resorted to buying the 'fillers' which were actually 'buds' by which time I regretted not using little filler flowers.. They would have looked a whole lot better. (I was too stressed out towards the end to bother making them myself although they would have been the easiest thing to make). And since The Cake Connection at Jaya One sells a good range of sugar flowers and other cake decorating paraphernalia I see no reason why I shouldn't indulge a little.

Colour wise I am happy with the results although I found that the peach coloured roses faded after a few days. That puzzled me because it has never happened least not that I remember.

I am happy though that I managed to rely on some last minute creative thinking to deal with the problem of fixing the ribbon to the cake and came up with what I thought was a pretty snazzy way of buttoning the ribbon up like so! What I did was to cut off the wire stems of the sugar 'buds' that I bought to about 1/2 an inch long and then use them as a pin to secure the ribbon to the cake. know could have been arranged straighter. However, that little flash of inspiration saved me making a batch of royal icing.

I was also happy with the leaves I made, for their colour, which I had painted on with a mixture of lemon yellow and juniper green to get a lemony green and then dusted them with avocado green lustre powder and finally steamed them to seal the colour in. What I then achieved was a patina in a lovely greenish gold which made them look somewhat vintage. It was the first time I had done that and the results were amazing. I was very very pleased.

Then I just couldn't tear myself away from piping the 'brocade' design (copied from Colleen Collette's cake decorating book; my favourite cake design book)) which I love so much and which, I think, adds a certain elegance to the finished cake. I do this design every time no matter how hard I tell myself that I should try something new. But because it gives such a sophisticated finish each time it never fails to please me. But I suppose it is about time I finished off the cake differently next time. Next Time? Gasp!

My precious baby that I spied and kept looking fondly at in between gaps at the official marraige ceremony held in a totally charming, quaint and little 100 year old village masjid at Durian Tunggal in historical Malacca

I am a proud mother of the cake! :) My work is done and my life is back to normal. Normal as only normal could be.

These are the recipes for the sugar paste flowers, the fondant and the royal icing that I used for the cake decorations.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


D-Day is looming up ahead! I'm getting touchy.......

And I find it kinda funny,
I find it kinda sad
That the dreams in which I'm cryin'
Are the best I've ever had.

But it's a slow ride
And I'm goin' to take it easy
Cos' there was a time
When I was so broken-hearted
When cakes weren't much friends of mine
And fondant
Was a sweet misery.

One love
One blood
One life
One's gotta do what one should.

Am I strong enough to see this through?
Go crazy is what I'll do
If I can't do too,
I don't want nothin' else baby ...

Cause I am bound by a wild desire
When I fell into a ring o' roses
Down, Down, Down..
As the petals
Got bigger
As big as
The flames
Of a ring of fire.

Take a good look at my face ..
Outside I'm masquerading,
Inside my hope is fading,

My smile is my make up
Ever since the roses fell and broke up..

But it doesn't matter..
If it was dark or light,
For I believe in miracles
Whether miracles happen or not.

For I am bound by a wild desire
When I fell into a ring o' roses
Down, down, down..
And the petals got bigger
As big as
The flames
Of a ring of fire

Slow ride
Take it easy
For life is kinda funny
And I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I'm cryin'
Are the best I've ever had....

I am bound
By a wild desire.

The 'lyrics' were plucked from the lyrics of songs that Adam Lambert has sung on American Idol, combined, arranged, re-arranged and adapted to suit my cake decorating obsession. :D

I have since covered a dummy cake in fondant, practiced my piping of a lace like design on it, brushed it with gold dust and pierced the whole with the wire stems of my sugar paste roses. This is a sneak preview of the cake and what it might look like. I'm quite pleased with the overall look although there is still plenty of room for improvement and more details. Five days from D-day I will be making the actual roses that I will be using , painting the leaves and making rose buds and in the meantime a little more pondering perhaps ...

While I watch the final round of American Idol....

In the meantime here's the recipe for the fondant.......taken from Sylvia Coward's book on Cake Decorating with Sugarpaste....

Fondant Recipe....

250 gm liquid glucose
1 kg sifted icing sugar
10 ml gelatine
50 ml cold water
20 g vegetable fat

Stand the bottle of liquid glucose,with its lid off, in hot water to warm.
Place sifted icing sugar in a bowl, setting aside 250 gm of it in another bowl.
Soak the gelatine in 50 ml cold water in a heat proof bowl. Place the container over hot water until the gelatine dissolves completely.

Melt the fat.

Make a well in the icing sugar, add glucose, gelatine and fat. Stir well to combine. Knead the icing and adjust the consistency by adding the reserved icicng sugar or egg white until a smooth pliable paste is formed.

Knead in desired colour until the colour is even. Store in an airtight plastic bag. Do not keep in refridgerator.

This recipe is enough to cover a 10 inch cake with a little extra left over.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


The daily downpours have ceased and the sun's been openly glaring outside since. It isn't as humid now as it was a month before but by midday I'm wrestling with my eyelids and my only solace is the couch, the air conditioner and more often than not a deep, left-hooked kind of unconscious slumber.

So instead of sweating it out like a dog I have kept away from the unbearable heat in the kitchen, as much as possible, until I feel it cool enough to indulge in some superfluous food fiddling. So forgive me my lack of food posts.

But post I must so I did finish a book in spite of myself so here's the review for the latest book that a friend, Kalsom, has written....


I sense the past generations of Andaks as extremely close knit and lived largely as extended families brought and kept close by the love, care and concern of the elders, irrespective of their relationships, whether close or distant, whether through birth or marriage or adoption; their bonds constantly and firmly sealed by a deep spiritual and religious faith.

Kalsom starts off as with her first book, "Taib Andak - In a Class of His Own", with a history of her ancestors but this time burrowing deep into her mother's side of the family. Through their veins run the blood of the Siantan, the Bugis Malay and the Semantan people. Kalsom has traced their roots to Raja Iskandar Shah of Malacca (the first Sultan of Malacca from 1400-1414) from which the Tok Jabbar clan eventually branched off and to which the Andaks belong. The Tok Jabbar clan has produced five Menteri Besars (Chief Ministers) for Johor, State Secretaries, State Commissioners and Head of the Johor Military Force. With such an impressive lineage it is no wonder that Kalsom has gone to such great lengths and devoted much time into deep ancestral researching and finally into publishing her work. Several family trees have been drawn up with the most complete being spread across two pages of the book and with photographs imprinted.

As a result of this historical and ancestral excavation much has been unraveled revealing vastly complex and confusing relationships through marriages and endogamy where former cousins become father-in-law and son-in-law, where uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews become husbands and wives, wives and husbands where a father marries his daughter's sister-in-law and other mind baffling, rubic-wrenching relationships. The first two chapters have been comprehensively devoted to this bewilderingly entangled associations and in the process Kalsom finally solved the puzzle of Abdul Rahman Andak's (a well known nationalist of the late nineteenth century who was later sent into exile in England for being "troublesome") relationship to them; a missing link in her first book.

Before going into detail about her mother, (Puan Sri) Zainab, Kalsom finds it necessary to bring us stories of her mother's indomitable grandmother, Ummi, and Tok Mat, Zainab's father, fondly relating their quirks and whimsical habits and the obvious influence they have had on Zainab's childhood, her personality and her future. With them come further twists and shifts in family relationships through marriages.

In chapter eight, Kalsom describes Zainab, her mother - the person. The woman who has in her own quiet and unobtrusive way kept the family together, stood by her husband and received tragedy and personal pain stoically. For a woman of her times, born in 1919 during the colonial era Zainab was one of the few Malay women who received an English education in a French convent and who paved the way for other Malay girls to follow suit. Had it not been for her early marriage one can only imagine what could have been; for she had haboured dreams of becoming a doctor. But being a young Malay woman and a woman born at such a time she had pushed her dreams aside and obeyed her parents when she was told after returning home for the school holidays one day that she had been engaged to be married to Taib Andak; a man she had come to know and love only after her wedding day and during their long and successful fifty-seven year marriage.

But marriages are not made in heaven for there was an unhappy secret that Kalsom reveals in her book; one that she shockingly discovered one day several years ago. Polygamy which was practiced amoung some of her ancestors became a fifteen year secret that unveiled and lodged itself too close to home and for comfort. It was received with disbelief by her children but with calmness and self-control by Zainab as she carried on with her responsibilities and maintained her marriage resolutely. To add more interest Kalsom has made a little digression by relating the various probable reactions should polygamy strike other female members of the family.

It is through the telling of her family's story too that one gets the feel of the active social life of civil servants and their spouses during the colonial period when much British influence have resulted in the love of dancing and parties amoung the Malays at the time. Kalsom describes some of her older male relatives as 'Malay gentlemen' after the British fashion and how husbands taught wives to dance Western dances. One senses their love and admiration for certain aspects of British culture while remaining faithful to Islam and the Malay culture in the privacy of their homes and families.

Kalsom writes first and foremost as the historian that she is. Facts, dates, names and family connections abound in the first several chapters and the book ends with notes written by various family members relating their own special relationships and experiences with Zainab. A whole chapter too has been devoted to list each of Zainab's childrens' achievements as well as their quirks and personalities.

This book has been written simply, clearly and concisely, interspersed here and there with Bahasa expressions and with some humourous passages that describe some idiosyncratic Malay practices and habits. It is a very personal, ancestor-searching and family driven book that has been written to inform and to preserve the overwhelming facts and details of the Andak family for the Andak family and to give them a sense of their roots and ancestors. It is a book that would be held close to the hearts of family members and their future generations as proof of their genealogy.

Without a doubt this book complements Zainab's other half "Taib Andak-In a Class of His Own". It was completed within a month to celebrate and mark Zainab's ninetieth birthday on the 7th of May 2009.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


A kiss for baby Anne 2 - a painting by Mary Cassalt

It was like a Pasadena Flower Parade but without the flowers. Wheelchairs rolled down the aisle through the ballroom of the PJ Hilton, one behind the other. It was quite a sight. We all turned and smiled. Most of us stood up and some reached out with kisses and hugs.

There were probably about fifteen of them (maybe more) but each wheelchair carried an octogenarian mama, each woman a great grandmother, a grandmother and a mother, all seated and looking quite sublime, their wheelchairs pushed by their smiling and younger relations.

I looked at them and they reminded me of once great admirals or generals who have fought great wars, engaged in minor battles, who have made difficult, deathly and risky decisions, who have lead unwaveringly, who have toiled with their men in blood and sweat, who have witnessed the pain and suffering of their men and have been admirals and generals who would have gone down with their ships or with their men without second thoughts. I imagined the string of medals or of the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa Award (the Malaysian equivalent of the Victoria Cross or Medal of Honour) that they must have earned for extreme bravery, courage and sacrifice - had they been serving their country in the the armed forces or the navy. Had they been Generals or Admirals.

This afternoon's book launch was for a book by Kalsom Taib written as a tribute to her mother, 90 year old Zainab Ahmad, "A truly Remarkable Woman". The event was attended by mostly women who were grandmothers, mothers and daughters in their own right. I think we were all buzzing and agreeing on a woman's worth.

As women, we have always known that women need women. And the book was a woman's salutation to the greatest woman in her life whose contribution as a full time wife, mother and repository for her family's physical and emotional needs has been fully recognized, appreciated and given due honour and award. She must have been a truly remarkable woman to have been bestowed with that recognition from her daughter in the full glare of public light.

The reason for attendance was good, the music (Ghazal) was good, the company was good and the food was surprisingly ok good, not excellent but ok good (I have never much looked forward to mass produced function food). But this time around it was pretty good - considering.

This time motherhood and the role of a housewife was being celebrated, recognized, upheld and appreciated. It is a difficult and time consuming job and with the emotional strings attached it makes it one of the most highly strung and volatile undertaking that can be quite hard to bear. Sometimes.

So this is a tribute to a woman who has simply been a good wife and mother in the eyes of her daughter. Nothing more, nothing less. This is not about a woman who has climbed the highest mountain, sailed solo around the world, who has achieved a scientific breakthrough or who has tried to do what men do. It is about being a wife and mother.

I believe it's about selflessness, about sacrifice, about walking the fine lines between between caring and fussing, between concern and prying, between pain and joy. It's about the the future they have put down for the future of others, the dreams they have pushed aside to dream for others and the glory they share should those they love be glorified.

But this time around She was glorified.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Where would the world be without flowers? And where would the world be without colours and to think that there are even more shades, hue, tints, tones, more selective reflections, more prisms of broken light...more colours out there than the human eye could ever perceive, sense and soak in is painfully unimaginable. I thank God for colours and for flowers and for birds and for corals and for all those gorgeously swathed tropical fish in coral reefs of every indescribable hue. If I could live in a coral reef with all those divinely coloured creatures of the sea I would. If I could grow with all those flowers in a field under an open sky I would. If I could fly with all those brilliantly cloaked birds in a tropical canopy of paradise I would and if I could perceive those colours that we cannot see it would complete me. But if only I could.

I don't believe in ugly colours for every colour conceived is a blessing. But there can be an ugly combination of colours. And it is these that spoil my day. They so spoil my day that I would sit and suffer until I realise the perfect combination, until the colours come together to make a pleasant and refreshing sight, until all tones balance each other out and nothing sticks out like a sore thumb, until the green is the perfect hue of green that was hiding in my head. And that was what I did today. I sat and suffered.

And yet I haven't got it quite right. But nevertheless....I shall display my effort for tomorrow is yet another day.

The yellow green of those little flowers were a tone too bright I thought. A little too light and too lively for what I had in mind. Subtle, subdued, muted and romantic shades are what I am aiming to create and so I mixed another batch of royal icing yet again and am in the midst of piping flowers yet again.

Once I get the colours right, the types and combination of flowers will be my next important consideration, the accents I should use, the background and finally the arrangement of the whole. I have a whole month to ponder, to progress or to regress but most important of all I am enjoying it. The pain, the pleasure and the bewilderment makes it a strangely satisfying way to suffer in joy.

Here's the recipe for royal icing.................

3 egg whites
about 675 gm icicng sugar
2 - 3 tbsp strained lemon juice
1 - 1 1/2 tsp glycerin (optional)

Royal icing can be made in any quantity as long as you allow 1 egg white to each 8 oz icing sugar. While using icing cover bowl with damp cloth to prevent a crust from forming. For making the flowers I used only one third of the recipe with no glycerin and no lemon juice. Glycerin helps to soften teh icing for coating a cake so since I was making flowers I did not need the softening agent.

Beat egg whites until frothy, then gradually beat in half the sugar using a wooden spoon. A mixer can be used but it creates too much air pockets which will be hard to remove and interferes with the piping of flowers. Add the lemon juice and glycerin at this point if using and then gradually beat in remaining icing sugar until the mixture stands in soft peaks. Keep icing in an airtight container or cover the bowl with a damp cloth for several hours to allow most of the air bubble to be released if you are icing a cake.

For piping the flowers I used it immediately and a Wilton 101 petal nozzle.


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