Sunday, 26 April 2015

Lor Bak

Lor Bak (Braised Pork with Eggs) is one of our favourite dishes and loved by all our guests.

You will need…

1 kg pork belly strips, cut into 1cm slices
6 – 8 eggs
6 – 8 shiitake mushrooms

Light soya sauce, 2 tbsp
Dark soya sauce, 2 tbsp
White pepper

Garlic, 4 cloves, crushed and chopped
Ginger, one good-sized section, sliced thinly
Star anise
Five spice, 1 tsp


What you need to do...

1. Prepare meat and marinate with soya sauces, salt, white pepper and sugar for 30 minutes.
2. Hard-boil eggs. Remove shells.
3. Soak dried mushrooms in boiled water. When softened, rinse until water runs clear.
4. Stir-fry spices… garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and five spice.
5. Stir-fry meat, adding some sugar to caramelise meat.
6. Add water and eggs.
7. Simmer meat until tender, constantly turning ingredients for eggs to be coated brown evenly and for mushrooms to absorb flavours.
8. When the meat is cooked, taste the sauce. Add extra salt or dark soya sauce as required.
9. Serve with rice and Chinese vegetables.

Notes… We sometimes modify this dish with the addition of Tofu Puff or Quail Eggs. You can also use chilli but this is not authentic.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

An Example of Malaysian Nonya Cooking

Nonya or Peranakan Cuisine is a tasty part of Malaysian Cuisine. Historically, it derives from the intermarriage of Chinese and Malay men and women, bringing their Chinese ancestral cooking skills and ingredients and combining these with the spices and techniques of the Malay (and Indonesian) communities, creating a range of unique aromatic and spicy dishes.

About the chef? She has lived abroad for longer than she has lived in Malaysia. For many years she had to improvise with ingredients which were simply unavailable. However, she has fond memories of the culinary lessons of her Nonya grandmother. Our Sydney garden allows her the opportunity to relearn past skills and experiment with the ingredients available here.

Below is an example of home-style Nonya Cooking which we regularly enjoy. Asam means 'sour' but refers to the use of tamarind. This dish also contains calamari (sotong), prawns (udang) and lemon basil (kemangi). For a different flavour, leave out the lemon basil.

Our version of Asam. 
Asam Sotong Udang Kemangi

For four people, you will need..

      Calamari, 300 gms
      Prawns, 500 gms

      Belachan (Prawn Paste), ½ tsp
      Garlic, 4 cloves crushed
      Chillies, 10 chopped (or to taste)

      Lemon Grass, 2 stems crushed
      Tamarind Puree, 2 tsp
      Turmeric, 1 tsp

      Cherry tomatoes, 10 halved 
      Kemangi (Lemon Basil) leaves, 1 cup

      Limau kasturi (Calamondin), juice from 2 limes
      Sugar, 1 tsp

   1. Fry in some oil the garlic, chillies and belachan.
   2. Add the water. Then add the lemon grass, tamarind and turmeric. Cook these until fragrant.
   3. Add the calamari, prawns and tomatoes. Cook very briefly because the seafood will cook quickly.
   4. Finally, add the lemon basil, and balance the flavours with the lime juice, sugar and salt.

   Notes... You may have noticed in the photograph that potatoes have been used as a filler.
                The chef in this house always talks of 'agak-agak' when cooking. These are Malay words for 'educated guess'. Therefore, every 'asam' dish will vary naturally from the next, including the use of vegetables and herbs.

Friday, 24 April 2015

A Beautiful Discovery in Our Suburban Street

Photographed above is the result of our recent rains... and they have appeared in our local street. They are very beautiful but the golden colour indicates to us that these mushrooms are not for human consumption. If you have any clues to their identity, please contact us.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Big Rain

The past three days mark the heaviest period of rainfall since we moved into this home in 2011. Over New South Wales we have experienced the most relentless period of rain for the past seventeen years or more in some areas. 

Our neighbourhood has received about 200 millimetres of rain, but we have been very lucky to have suffered so little storm damage, compared with other districts.

Our only loss was a fruiting sugar banana tree which came down in the winds of Tuesday: this can be replaced. In fact, we have been considering removing the sugar banana because it is too tall and too large for comfortable handling.  

Other than this we watched, with just a little concern, as the water levels rose around our home as the rain plummeted today. With the easing of conditions, so eased our concerns.

And with the easing of the heavy rain, our backyard stream dissipated.

Pathway Fit for Wading

Our Backyard Stream
Our Fallen Banana Tree
Morris Pays a Visit

One of the bright spots this afternoon was a visit by Morris the Miner bird who braved a pause in the rainfall. Morris regularly visits the Grevillea bushes visible through our family room doors...

We wonder where Morris sought refuge from the terrible downpours of the past few days!? 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Rambutan or Pulasan?

Rambutan at a Chiang Mai market, Thailand.
I am sure most travellers to South-East Asia have savoured the delightful rambutan. But have you tried pulasan? Rambutan are widely cultivated throughout the Asian tropics. However, it has only been in recent years that the wild pulasan has been cultivated on a commercial scale.

Pulasan near Batu Pahat, Malaysia
So what are the differences between these fruit cousins?

In general, the pulasan is a larger fruit, a deeper red in colour with soft, blunt spines. The pulasan can be opened by twisting the fruit with both hands, whereas the 'hairy' rambutan is normally opened with a sharp knife or picked at with a thumb nail: this can be an arduous task for the thumb nail!

And the taste? The pulasan is usually juicier and sweeter but can be a little more difficult to separate from its seed. On the other hand, rambutan normally part easily from the seed, are mildly sweet but give a little more 'crunch' than their less well-known counterpart.

The author's opinion? Rambutan, but pulasan is a satisfactory replacement. Now to complicate the issue, I believe that the yellow rambutan is the best of all these fruits. What is your opinion?

Red and yellow rambutan hanging at a fruit stall on the outskirts of Ipoh, Malaysia

If you are travelling in Malaysia in rambutan season - luckily there are two seasons, mid-year and again over December and January - you should try all three delicacies... 

A magnificent rambutan tree with ripening fruit
Wouldn't it be wonderful if these splendid fruit, and most beautiful trees, could be grown in temperate Sydney?

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Siam Tulip Ginger

Found at the same time as our Dancing Ladies, this beautiful Siam Tulip (Curcuma alismatifolia ) will grace a special gingers bed in the spring months. At the moment it sits in its original pot in a full sun position. However, it is entering a period of dormancy in which it will lose its leaves. 

Siam Tulip is a native ginger of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and is related to culinary turmeric. In fact the leaves of the Siam Tulip are reminiscent of the turmeric plant.

Like many of the sub-tropical plants growing in this garden, we are prepared to experiment, giving it a chance to express itself amongst our other exotics.

N.B. The first photograph is of our specimen of Siam Tulip. The latter two photographs were taken in the Rajapruek Gardens in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Fragrant Frangipanis

The flowering season for frangipanis is drawing to a close: such a shame! Frangipanis require no special care... just a little feeding during the growing season and a little extra water during dry spells. Otherwise, they are very easy to manage. Below are the plants succeeding in our garden...

Grown from cuttings, this special frangipani will be a large plant on maturity, and may need regular trimming. One of its attractive features is that the flowers vary in colour as the weather varies. Please note the two photographs to the left. We do not know the name of this variety.

'Bali Whirl' is a slower-growing plant. We purchased it at the Fairfield Markets.

Another cutting-grown plant which is a slower-growing variety. It produces large bunches of sweet-smelling blooms.

Also cutting-grown variety. This is our latest addition which at the moment is establishing itself in a pot. It has a lovely range of colours within each panicle.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Unusual Characteristics of a Maha Chanok Seedling

 The Facts...

Picked...  April 1
Ripe...     April 15 (Sydney)
Weight... 1.1kg
Colour... Yellow Background. There was a   red blush on the top of two smaller mangoes.
Flavour...  Sweet, mild
Texture... Custard-like
Fibre...     Almost fibre-free
Seed...      Flat and curved, similar to Maha Chanok or Nam Dok Mai and other Thai mangoes. Poly-embryonic.

The flavour was clearly reminiscent of Maha Chanok mangoes. However, its size, shape and polyembryonic seed are not representative of the Maha Chanok parent.

The seed obtained from this precious tree has been planted. However, the chances of a successful sprouting are low due to the impending onset of our Sydney winter. 

What a pleasant surprise it has been to have grown such delicious mangoes from seed! 

Home Grown Pineapples... Mmm, Mmm!

Two Smooth and One Rough Pineapples. Note the different tops.
Grown from the tops of purchased fruit, our pineapples are prospering. During the summer, we harvested two pineapples, and at the moment, we have another four on the way. 

It has taken three years for the first fruits to develop. However, we understand that, as we harvest our pineapples, new side-shoots will grow and bear fruit within two years... we will be patient to test this theory.

Rough Leaf Pineapple
Unfamiliar with the specific names, we are content to tell you that we have Smooth-Leaf and Rough Leaf Pineapples. The former are juicier than the latter. However, the Rough Pineapples are golden-yellow and ever so sweet.

Sydney pineapples are small in comparison with their Queensland cousins but are very flavoursome. Beware, however, when weeding your pineapple patch: they can be nasty to bare skin!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Bayam or Amaranth
Amaranth Stir-fry

It is best to select young amaranth leaves. 

This is an extremely simple, but nutritious recipe. As the beautiful amaranth leaves soften under heat, they will liberate their reddish pigment into the juices. 

You will need...

2 tablespoons oil for stir-frying
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Chilli to taste, chopped
A little salt
Lots and lots of Amaranth leaves... they will shrink markedly as they cook!

1. Simply stir-fry the garlic and chilli. 
2. When the garlic is done, add the amaranth leaves and cook well... amaranth might require a little more cooking if your leaves are older. 
3. Finally, add a little salt. You should not require water if your leaves have been soaked and washed before cooking. 
Gorgeous Galangal

It has taken us some time to establish our supply of Galangal (Lengkuas or Laos). We now have two stands of this delightful member of the ginger family.

Galangal is a tall, attractive plant, growing to one metre eighty in our garden. During the summer, it will produce interesting green and white flowers. It needs plenty of water while the heat of summer persists, and enjoys regular feeding with organic fertilisers.

After harvest, we slice and freeze our Galangal. The rhizome is very hard, so care needs to be taken when preparing the herb for cooking. We do not use Galangal as regularly as ginger. However, we use it in soup dishes: Tom Yum (Thai) and Soto (Indonesian), in some curry dishes and occasionally in stir-fries.

Its scientific name is Alpinia galanga.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Last of the Summer Amaranth

One of our staple summer vegetables, Amaranth (bayam) is easy to grow. From an initial planting three years ago, we have allowed successive crops to self-seed. As a consequence, we have an enormous number of plants sprouting each new spring: they are prolific!

Many of these plants will grow in positions preventing access to parts of our gardens. These are the first to be culled for the fry-pan.

Amaranth, however, can be 'topped'. It will continue to send out nutritious side-shoots throughout the summer and autumn months. I will place a simple recipe for Amaranth stir-fry in our recipes section.

N.B. Seed can normally be purchased at Asian grocery stores in Sydney.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Sungai Buloh Nurseries

As an avid gardener and an admirer of tropical plants, this was an especially interesting destination for me: I am certain that most like-minded enthusiasts would relish a visit to Sungai Buloh Green Lane.

Historically, Sungai Buloh was set up as a green haven for people suffering from leprosy. Those people, however, established nurseries, which today continue in operation. An especially good time to pay a visit is just prior to Chinese New Year when the nurseries are replete with plants especially selected for the celebrations.

The nurseries stock all manner of Malaysian native plants, as well as fruit trees, exotic flowers, a stunning array of orchids, pots and gardening products. 

The nurseries are about 25 minutes by car from the capital city, Kuala Lumpur.

Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island

The Resort

This was our second visit to Orang Utan Island. One arrives at Bukit Merah Laketown and then catches the boat from the marina to the refuge a short distance away.

Today, there were few people there: just us, a single man and a family joined us.

Alighting from the boat at the island we were met by a tiny Malay lady who walked us through an extended ‘cage’way. Here, the people are inside the cage while the beautiful animals live freely outside. Our guide's English was good enough but when we indicated that we could speak Malay our conversations deepened and we learned so much more about the orang utans. 

Sadly, we learned that enormous Mike, whom we had seen and loved in 2010 had passed away two years ago and a life-size replica of him had been erected in the cageway. He was 37.

We also rediscovered Jadin who was a baby-in-nappies in 2010. This brought back splendid memories for us. He had become a naughty 4 year old who played hide-and-seek with us. And as well there were Carlos, Adam, June and others… 20 in total, all Sarawak-variety orang utans.

What’s more we learned that Sumatran and Bornean orang utans cannot be allowed to interbreed because their progeny die or are disabled at birth. 

We have visited Orang Utan Island twice during our many trips to Malaysia. It is close to the city of Taiping in Perak. The administrators of the Island clearly love their charges who have free range of their island home.
Update... Mango, Jackfruit, Starfruit

Maha Chanok seedling

Our second fruit from a Maha Chanok mango seedling has ripened fully. It had a mild, sweet flavour and meaty texture reminiscent of some of the Thai mangoes. Its skin was thin and its seed husk was small and slim. Ironically, for a specimen weighing 500 grams, the husk contained no seed. Nor did our first small mango of about 200 grams. It will be interesting to see whether our third and largest mango will have viable seed on ripening. 

Our wonderful young jackfruit tree continues to develop fruiting spurs, 12 at the moment, with more developing. The big test will be the impending winter: will the tree retain its fruit?

Finally, the starfruit are showing signs of ripening. The seedling has shed some of its crop. However, a plentiful supply of small stars remains. We are hoping that the fruit will be sweet and juicy on harvest.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Wildlife Friends

It is always a pleasure to welcome local wildlife to our juvenile garden. Below is a selection of our visitors...
Net-Casting Spider

Welcome... or Unwelcome?

Rainbow Lorikeet

"I'll just sneak down to that fish pond!"
"Have you tried climbing with a ball-and-chain?"

Tiger Moth

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly

X Marks the Spot
Blue Tongue Lizard

"Is it bath time?"
"I'm not so noisy!" Noisy Miner

A Dragon Fly emerging from our fish pond... 'Fiery Skimmer'

Rainbow Lorikeets Feeding

Monarch Butterfly

A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Fiery Skimmer Dragonfly

Our Christmas Visitor... In Our Bedroom! Tyler's Tree Frog, we believe.