Friday, February 20, 2009


When Kak Chom had asked me to write a frank and honest review of her book and to publish it on my blog my immediate reaction was one of hesitance and apprehension.

Frankly, I wasn't ready to write a review about a biography/history book just as I wasn't ready to be bogged down by a biography/history book especially when I was in the midst of savouring recipe books, flipping their pages and ogling at food pictures and spending a substantial amount of my waking hours on a newly acquired preoccupation; food blogging. I faltered and mumbled something along the lines of smile-blink-blank. But Kak Chom, being the formidable woman that she is, (and a good head taller than I am) immediately presented me with a free, signed copy of her book. I caved in. So recipe books, with due respect, had to move over.

"Taib Andak". I am afraid to say, that although the name had a familiar ring to it, my knowledge of the man went no further beyond that. I looked at his picture and what I really liked about it was the smile that reached his eyes. I wondered what his legacy was and the impact he must have had on those around him that has made it worth his daughter's while to spend 9 months researching, traveling and writing it all down.

A little skeptical of reading a biography written by a person's own daughter because, surely, I was thinking, it would only be natural that there would be nothing but high praises and accolades page after page and that, I told myself, would be quite stultifying.

But I was wrong. It was quite unputdownable. So it surprised me that once I had started I found myself reading it with increasing curiosity. Learning about the life of a man, with facts, dates, family history, his achievements, the history of our nation and it's achievements contrived in such a way that I perused the book diligently. When I did put it down (because I had to) I did so with a feeling of anticipation towards my next reading session. That was the result of Kak Chom's engaging, no nonsense, thoroughly pleasing writing style that posed a good balance of a personal and surely emotional, a writer's and an historian's approach to the book.

On reflection, had it not been written by Taib Andak's daughter the book would have been just another dry, factual, mechanical, stilted book devoid of the heart-pulling, throat-tightening nuggets of insights and up close personal experiences that would have been known only to the closest family members.

The first chapter greets me, not with the birth of Taib Andak but with a brief history of his ancestors, a Bugis people, and how they had come to settle in Malaysia's most southern state of Johor in the early part of the eighteenth century. It starts by clearing the confusion about the relationship between an Abdul Rahman Andak and Taib Andak who are often mistaken for brothers. In order to do so Kalsom found it necessary to begin Taib's story at his roots which must have been a time consuming and obsessive task but one that finally bore a long and impressive lineage and family tree.

The book is a wonderful study of a man caught in the three phases of Malaysia's modern history, beginning at a time of colonial rule, in the steering towards independence and finally of the coming into itself as an independent nation. It focuses on his early life, of his friendships formed and forged with the the then country's future leaders, of his life as a student in England, of his career as a civil servant, of his contributions to FELDA, of his achievements, his personal joys and tragedies and of the man himself as son, father, husband and friend, all set against the backdrop of an emerging nation beginning at a time when Taib himself recalled that "You were either a soldier, a policeman or a civil servant. There was no incentive to go into business and politics barely existed. "

So it was in this early environment that Taib grew up. In the writer's words, "Taib was very much a product of his times......hence he chose the civil service." He started his career in 1938 at the age of 22 by joining the Malay Officers Service (MOS). After the war Taib went on to read law in London under 'The Sultan Ibrahim Scholarship Fund'.

It was during his years in London that Taib forged a close friendship with the then future Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdul Razak. It was a friendship that was to strengthen and span several years until the death of the latter.

Taib was advancing in his career as a civil servant after having successfully completed his studies in England when Tun Abdul Razak as Malaysia's second Prime Minister selected Taib and appointed him as chairman of his brainchild, the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) in 1958. Razak saw Taib as the man who could translate and execute his (Razak's) vision into a reality. Taib, in order to focus fully on the job at hand, succeeded in obtaining an assurance from Razak that there would be no political interference.

This book gives a deep insight into the very significant part FELDA has played in raising the economic status of the Malays without which many would not be where they are now. It has provided land, homes, a means of earning a living and above all opportunities for a brighter future for the children of these first settlers. The early years, as Taib admitted, were not smooth sailing and "needed a lot of patience and tolerance".

Taib also headed Maybank for 12 years followed by an appointment as the Chairman of the Tropical Fish Culture Research Institute, as board member of Sime Darby and various other organizations so that he could contribute the "wisdom and experience of many years in government."

Kalsom had been honest in portraying his weaknesses as well, of his financial indulgences as a student in London, of mistakes he made as a young District Officer in Kuala Lipis, of the allegations he had faced as a board member of Hume Industries, in other words, his imperfections as a normal human being. He is also described as a disciplinarian and yet at times the indulgent father of his children, and one who gave no second thoughts of going against convention, at the aghast of friends and relatives. In one instance he had put aside cultural norms by refusing a dowry for the hand of his daughter because it would have been a financial strain on his future son-in-law.

Kalsom has done such a thorough research that she has been able to provide interesting excerpts from editorials that date back to as early as 1901. One of these excerpts describe vividly the town of Muar, the centre of Taib's early life. She has also given some feel of life in colonial Malaya. She describes in detail the many colonial homes that they have lived in, personal incidents, weddings and there is a charming detail of the Andak family home in Parit Bakar.

If you are not familiar with FELDA , if the story of Malaysia's colonial past and independence learnt from tiresome history texts have thrust you to form a complete repugnance of the subject, if you are skeptical and not able to comprehend and connect with the feelings and emotions that ran through the blood and souls of the early nationalists and our country's leaders before and immediately after independence and would like to touch base with their thoughts, ideals and passions at the time, this book is an enlightening, engaging and at times touching read. Although riddled with facts, figures, names, places and dates it is at the same time richly personal and revealing because it deals not only with the professional and the political but also with the private and colourful social interactions of an individual in the thick of Malaysia's history and how in his own way had helped in the moulding of our nation.

Kalsom's writing is not at all gratuitous because the stories and incidents that she relates eventually lead to a point that allows the reader to form an opinion of Taib him/herself. Kalsom successfully brings out the man her father was not because she says he is such but because she shows that he is such.

This is a book that is filled with letters, references, notes and photographs of a constantly smiling or laughing Taib, anecdotes of humourous and heart rending incidents, reminiscences by his large circle of old friends, all of which have come together to bring Taib Andak back to life for the three days that I spent with the book. It is definitely a good read.

It is available for sale at MPH bookstores.

Datin Kalsom Taib graduated with a BA (Hons) majoring in history in 1965 and a Diploma in Education, both from the University of Malaya. She has worked in various multinational corporations namely Shell Malaysia, Malaysia Mining Corporation and at Nestle Malaysia as its Human Resource Director from 1991 -1997.

This is her first book, has published her second and with a third in progress. When I last spoke to her she had also told me that she might write and publish a recipe book based on recipes passed down from her mother and perhaps other older relatives. I look forward that.

PS : Several mouth watering Malay dishes have been mentioned in this book. Dishes that have been lovingly prepared and cooked and served to guests by Zainab, Taib's wife, with the help of their ever faithful Mak Li. It was a well known fact that Taib loved entertaining in his home and was an excellent host "which could have been one of the factors that led the World Bank to extend loans to FELDA. Perhaps negotiations have taken place over dinner."

With dishes like beryani rice, red cooked chicken (ayam masak merah), sour and spicy curry (gulai asam pedas), fruit and vegetable salad (asma rojak), black cooked squid (sotong masak hitam), terutup fish (ikan masak terutup), dhal and vegetable pickle (dalcha and achar rampai) and desserts such as cream caramel and sweet corn one would certainly not be surprised that everyone was in a constantly agreeable mood.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


This is a very simple fish recipe from the Australian Women's Weekly cookbook that I have tried successfully several times. The recipe calls for trout but since we don't have trout I used our grey mullet instead or ikan belanak.

As a fair amount of butter is used to shallow fry the fish and later as part of the sauce the dish has a lovely buttery flavour (obviously) and the skin fries to a lovely crisp. The almonds add a nice nutty bite in contrast to the tender flesh of the fish.

I followed the recipe and removed the bones but I believe it is not necessary if you find difficulty in doing so. You could instead make 3 scores/cuts across the body of the fish just skimming the main bone and carry on from there to ensure the fish is cooked through when fried.

The grey mullet is quite a lovely fish with a full, solid and tender flesh. It is often underrated but it is actually quite good. In Taiwan and I believe in colder waters the grey mullets are just divine. They are more oily, fatty and therefore extremely tender and flavourful while the Malaysian mullets are not nearly as moist and fatty as their northern cousins.

Unfortunately I have recently learnt that this fish can be farmed inspite of it being a saltwater fish. The Pomfret or bawal emas is also another saltwater fish that may be and is farmed. It now makes sense why the prices of the pomfret or bawal emas at certain supermarkets are exceedingly cheap where normally it will cost a substantial 25 to 26 ringgit a kilo in the wet markets. I have been buying the pomfret at a certain supermarket albeit a little hesistantly and suspiciously but I will certainly not buy anymore now. Like farmed prawns God knows what chemicals are used to breed and fatten up the fish.

The Recipe ..........

4 trout or 2 medium sized grey mullets
4 oz butter
salt n pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 oz flaked almonds
2 Tbsp chopped parsely

Wash and scale the fish and pat dry. make 3 cuts or scores across the body of the fish on both sides.

Coat fish well with flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Shake off excess. Heat a frying pan till hot and then melt the butter in it and fry the fish until cooked and golden brown. The cooking time depends very much on the size of the fish. Remove fish from pan and place on a serving platter; keep warm.

Place extra butter in a clean pan and stir until bubbling. Add flaked almonds, saute gently until almonds are light golden brown. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and stir. Add parsley, stir and combine and then spoon butter sauce over the fish. Serve hot or warm with white rice.


This is a gorgeous painting recently done by my youngest son Rab. I would like to share it with you.

Flowers and food are just meant for each other therefore I blog but......

Please don't eat the daisies - Jean Kert

Flowers always make people better, happier; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul - Luther Burbank

It is at the edge of a petal that love waits - William Carlos Williams

Where flowers bloom so does hope - Lady Bird Johnson

Flowers are love's truest language - Park Benjamin

The earth laughs in flowers - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Flowers are the sweetest things God made and forgot to put a soul into - Henry Ward Beecher

I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers - Claude Monet

With a few flowers in the garden, half a dozen pictures and some books, I live without envy - Lope de Vega

The actual flower is the highest fulfilment, and are not here exclusively for herbaria, county floras and plant geography : they are here first of all for delight - John Ruskin


I grovelled for this recipe from Terri of Hunger Hunger after reading her new year post and she in turn directed me to Greg and Nee who posted the recipe on their post. Thank you so much for sharing Terri, Greg an d Nee! It's utterly addictive and unbelievably easy to make. To be honest when I was trying to conjure up this recipe in my head I had imagined some sort of a thin batter in which the strips of seaweed would be dipped in and then deep fried. I couldn't have been more mistaken and nothing could be more obvious and plain than the method by which this is made. Like everything delicious the secret is in its simplicity that no one would have considered. Except..........

....son number one who after crunching on a piece stated quite nonchalantly, "Oh you used popia (spring roll) skin?" I cringed (and hung my head in shame):).

Here's the recipe..........

10 squares of nori seaweed
20 pieces of spring roll skin
sesame oil
1 egg white lightly beaten

Seperate the spring roll skins and keep aside under a damp cloth as these dry out very quickly. Take 1 piece of spring roll skin and brush all over with egg white.

Sprinkle salt and pepper and place a sheet of nori seaweed on top of it. Sprnkle some sesame seed oil and rub over evenly. Brush another sheet of spring roll skin and lay it over the seaweed layer, egg white side down. Do the same for the rest of the seaweed and spring roll sheets. You will end up with 10 sandwiched layers of seaweed like in the picture below.

Cut with a scissors each seaweed sandwich into strips and then across into 1 1/2 inch ribbons/band aids.

Deep fry these until a light golden brown. Drain, cool and store in air tight containers if you manage to get them in them instead of into your mouth.

TIP : Don't worry about the strips sticking together when frying. Just put them in and they will naturally seperate.

TIP : Do fry only until light brown and not dark brown. Will not look pretty if it's too dark.

TIP : If while cutting the layers seperate, just brush some egg white and stick them back together.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


This is seriously called lala in Malay. A pretty and dainty shell fish cooked in a way that anyone could do blind-folded. The simple way in which it is made into a soup brings out it's sweet delicate flavour without it being overwhelmed by hot chillies and spicy sambals that are so typical of Malay cooking.

This is so easy to do that you don't need a recipe..

'Lala' clams - as much or as little as you like
1 or 2 stalks lemon grass, the bulbous part bruised with a pestle
3 -4 slices of ginger or more if you're making a huge pot of it
1/2 a red chillie , chopped

Wash and rinse the clams at least 3 times to rid it of sand or grit. Fill a pot with water that is enough to just cover the clams. Bring it to a boil. Put in the clams, the lemon grass, ginger and add salt and bring to a boil and then let it simmer. It will cook in no time. Probably 7-8 minutes.

When done sprinkle with chopped chillies, taste for salt and serve with white rice. Slurp and fiddle.

Friday, February 13, 2009


This lovely steamed jam pudding goes back to the time when I was eleven. The most exciting thing that happened to me at that point in my life was having home science classes. Seriously. I took the big step into secondary school and home science was one of the few subjects that flickered me into some form of life. I proudly brought my first Victoria sandwich cake home to grinning parents from that class. It was in that year too that my parents presented me with my first cookbook (probably with ulterior motives :D) and as I flipped the pages my eyes fell and fixed itself on a full page picture of a gloriously moist, dense, golden and buttery mound of a steamed jam pudding capped with a deep, glistening and drooling, crimson jam.

That picture shot straight through my eyes, into my head and lodged itself permanently in a nook of my eleven year old brain. Without ever having tasted jam pudding before I knew that that was good. I made it and truth be told it was good in the way that I had imagined. Wholesome, jammy, warm and comforting. Face linkin' good.

If you're wondering what the jam pudding has to do with the Victoria sandwich cake from a home science class I'll tell you now. I'm not quite sure myself really. It's just that the the thought of the one seems to trigger the existence of the other. I suppose they're like sisters. They both use jam, they both require very basic baking skills, they both use the same proportion of similar basic ingredients and are both British food (fortunately boring does not describe them). But the one being steamed and the other being baked makes them so different in character. It makes one of them dainty and the other like a clod. Heavy, dense but totally engaging. I love steamed jam pud. I'll go for the clod anytime.

Here's the basic recipe from a St Michael's cookbook by Rosemary Wadey...(I've since passed down the cookbook that my parents gave me to my eldest daughter Juli when she was about 10 and who now resides in the US and I trust it is still with her). Although this recipe is for a different sort of steamed pud the basics of this recipe is exactly the same.

4 oz butter or tub magarine
4 oz castor sugar
2 eggs
4 oz plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a bottle of strawberry/raspberry jam (I did not measure the amount of jam I used but you definitely do not need the whole bottle)

Cream butter and sugar till light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until creamy. Fold in flour that has been sifted with baking powder until well mixed and no flour remains visible. Keep aside.

Fill 1 litre pudding basin OR 3 small Chinese bowls with 2 teaspoons of jam at the bottom.

Grease the exposed sides of the bowl or bowls and then fill with the cake mixture to about 2/3's or 3/4's full. The bowls that I used at first (above) were a little too big so I switched to the smaller Chinese bowls below instead.

Cover with buttered foil and steam for about 25-30 minutes for the small bowls and maybe 55 minutes to 1 hour for the pudding basin. Check by feeling the top. If it feels firm it's done.

Let cool a little. In the meantime heat about 3 tablespoons of jam with a teaspoon of water in a small pot until the jam liquifies. Stir until there are no lumps. Then loosen the sides of the pudding with a butter knife and invert onto a plate. Pour the liquid jam over the pudding or puddings just enough for it to drool down the sides attractively. You may pour some lightly beaten whipped cream over the jam and top with a cherry or strawberry for fun!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I first saw rugelach when Anna Olson made it on Sugar. It looked rather fiddly and although fiddly is sometimes my middle name it was a year before I resigned myself to making some. Apricot jam or jams of any kind wasn't something that anyone ate at home, the combination of jam and chocolate did not sound too good to me and currants or raisins I find too sweet. I know that I can devise my own fillings but I always prefer to make the originals of anything before I reinvent them.That way I'll know what they are supposed to taste like and whether the reinvented ones are better or worse.

But they looked so very rustic and appealing and since rustic is also my middle name I finally got down to business and made the dough last night and rolled them out and up today. I was envisioning a relaxed, laid back afternoon of rugelach rolling, fiddling and baking in the purity of solitary confinement where nobody would be hovering, vulturing and gawking at this strange-name cookie but, alas, solitary confinement is not my middle name and coupled with the mouth-watering, tempting and irresistable looking rug-a-lah, (doesn't that sound suspiciously Malaysian? :) ) that I had slid out from the oven, I had a hard time pacifying them while I did some photo shoots.

Finally when the inevitable question arose I had good answers. Yes they were good, very good. The pastry was light and crisp outside, soft inside and the fillings surprised me by getting along so well together. The sweetness was something that can be controlled easily without affecting the texture of the cookie and pleasantly the jam and chocolate married well. The walnuts though could have been more finely chopped and I loved the sugary, amber glaze of the crescents. But the crescents were what made me happy. At last I could make croissants without making croissants. Odd as it may seem it gave me quite a kick rolling them up and curling them inwards. I have never made cookies like these before, they were different and totally cool.

I googled for the rugelach recipe and I always ended up getting almost the same basic recipe. It had to be good so I went with it. Smitten Kitchen's and Dorie Greenspan's recipes were what I followed.

4 oz cold cream cheese, cut into 4
4 oz cold butter, cut into 4
1/8 cup castor sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Filling :

1/2 to 2/3 cup apricot jam, warm up with little water to liquify it for brushing
2 Tbsp castor sugar mixed with
1/2 - 1 tsp cinnamon powder

1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
1/4 cup raisins or currants ( I soaked them in water for 10 minutes to reduce its sweetness, drained, squeezed out the water and dried on a paper towel before chopping it up) You need not do this if you like it as is.
2/3 cup mini semi sweet choc chips

Glaze :
1 egg ( I used only the white), lightly beaten
2 Tbsp coarse sugar mixed with
1 tsp cinnamon powder (my own addition)

Make the dough the night before for convenience :

In a food processor pulse flour, cheese and butter 6 to 10 times or less just until the dough forms large curds (not forming a ball). Put the dough into a large bowl and gather it up with your fingers until it comes together into a ball. Because I wanted to make very dainty rugelach I divided the dough into 4 equal parts and shaped them into discs. Wrap in cling film or foil and refrigerate overnight or for 2 hours.

Prepare fillings :

Place each of the different fillings in small bowls, ready chopped. It is advisable to chop the nuts finely. I did not and had a problem with them being too chunky when I rolled the dough up. Make sure the jam is of a spreadable consistency.

Roll out one disc to the size of a dessert plate, about 6-7 inches diameter. If the dough is just out of the refrigerator and is too hard bash it with a rolling pin then roll. Cut the circle into 4, then into 8 wedges.

Brush them with the jam well, reaching the edges and sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture, 1/4 of the nuts, 1/4 of the raisins/currants and1/4 of the choc chips.

Starting from the broad edge roll up so that the point finishes off outside, then bend it so that it forms a crescent shape. Do this to all the wedges. Brush the tops with the egg white and sprinkle with coarse sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake in a 170 C oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Do the same for the other 3 discs. Bake them all and these are what you get. Beautiful rug-a-lahs!

Note : You may as per original recipe divide the dough into 2 and make only 2 discs. Roll each disc into 10-11 inch circles and cut into 16 wedges each and carry on from there, brushing with jam, scattering fillings etc. These make bigger rugelachs.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


The zebra cake is achieved through such simple means that the fascination lies not in its complexity of design but in its simplicity of method. It is truly an achievement of maximum effect through minimum means.

Add a moist deliciousness to that and you will have a cake that will awe, surprise and satisfy many. I stumbled upon the zebra cake on a lovely blog by Farida called and since then I have made it twice with the most pleasing and gratifying results that never fails to humour and entertain me no end with its uncanny resemblance to zebras. Thank you Farida!

But this time around I had replaced milk with cream and that alone had added on an extra dose of delectable moistness. The level of sweetness I have to say was just perfect in the sense that I did not have to grapple with my conscience each time I sunk my teeth into it. Of course the cream was a terribly sneaky move but I went ahead anyway because there's no butter in this recipe. It uses vegetable oil instead.

For all you zebra lovers out there here's the recipe.....

4 large eggs
1 cup castor sugar
1 cup milk (I used cream)
1 cup vegetable oil ( Iused canola oil)
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 Tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

Grease and flour a 9 inch baking pan well. Turn the oven on to 170 C.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and keep aside. Beat eggs and sugar together with a balloon whisk or the whisk attachment of your mixer until pale and creamy. Add the oil, milk/cream and vanilla essence and beat until well mixed. Turn down the speed to low and add the sifted flour and baking powder mixture and beat until just incorporated. Do not over whisk as you do not want to work up the gluten which will toughen the cake nor do we want too much air bubbles in the final mixture.

Take out just over 2 cups of the mixture and put it in another bowl and add the sifted cocoa powder to it and mix until the cocoa is well incorporated.

Scoop 3 tablespoons of the vanilla batter into the prepared cake pan, followed immediately by 3 tablespoons of the chocolate batter right in the centre of the vanilla batter and continue alternating the batters like so until they are finished.

There is no need to wait for each blob of batter to spread, there's no need to tilt or tap the pan at all. The batter will spread itself out naturally and as you add more batter the lines will become finer.

As soon as the process is completed place the pan in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

Invert, slice and enjoy your zebra cake!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Thank god I did not make any resolutions this new year. If I did you would find me agonizing over the all those pretty things that I would have to resist just because I didn't need them. I did it again. Yes I did... bought all them pretty things inspite of the economic woes unfurling across the universe.

But if someone has to keep the economy going. It might as well be me.

Being short of any food worth blogging about at the moment this is also another reason I have decided to display my wares once more. As usual they were a bargain and pretty too. Since everyone at home has been admiring and are in complete acceptance of my little indulgences I therefore have no reason to stop.

Pink is my favourite new colour since I bought these soup mugs. They are quite huge for a single serving of soup but who's measuring? They're cute and that is all that matters.

Rustic is what I love and rustic is what it is.

And here are two plates that challenged my decision making skills. As I looked at them and hefted each one of them in each of my hands, shifted my gaze from one to the other, used both my right and left brains, raised them against the lights in the store as I squinted at them, curled my lips into a painful smile, furrowed my indecisive eyebrows, sighed my breath away and spoke to them, I recalled quite acutely what Theodore Roosevelt had said, "In any moment of indecision the best thing that you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

So I bought them both.

If there are some things that jolt you into mouthing the lyrics of a song or reciting a nursery rhyme these two plates certainly did. I found myself murmuring ..... "and between them both you see I licked the platters clean." Just like scrawny Jack Sprat and his obese wife....the one who could eat no fat and the other who could eat no lean these two platters looked like complete opposites but yet complemented each other so well. My life has been made. For today.

So I baked some semolina cookies and prettied up the plate. God! It takes so little to please me.


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