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I participated in a storytelling competition when I was a kid. Before the end of class, my teacher would ask all participants to come in front of the class to tell the story they selected (memorised). So I did. I spoke with a masculine heroic tone. I used hands to show how big the monster was…I lost. I thought I would never tell story again.

Well, it never really ended after all. I wrote a story about a day in a Michelin-starred kitchen. I started Pastry Union, sharing stories about my love-hate relationship with chocolate. And one day, I came across a very interesting storyteller: Béatrice Coron. With scissors and paper, she creates stories of different cities. Listening to her stories of candycity, of heaven and hell, of creation and endless imagination, I am in awe.

Candycity, photo from beatricecoron.com

Then, there is Terunobu Fujimori’s story of a teahouse built too high, Takasugi-an. The teahouse, which is also a treehouse, reminds me of a childhood dream to live among the birds and leafy trees. I’m not an engineer, so I’m not bothered by the stability of this structure. His “ultimate personal architecture” is utterly poetic.

Takasugi-an, photo from dezeen.com

Stories are everywhere. Why did children need to tell story only about fairies, monster or animal? If I were a kid again, perhaps, I would like to tell a story about Sorry, I ate all the cake. I would stick my finger inside the cake to claim that “it’s mine”.  And then I would lick my finger and dig a bigger hole on the cake. Now no one dares to eat it. Again and again until it’s all gone. What’s yours?

“No shortcut. Great design starts from scratch from sketch.”

This is one of the principles I told myself when I started my cake shop, Pastry Union. I am so busy sketching, cooking and many many other things till I suddenly realise that it has been months since I last posted in Kitchen Nonsense.


“How to make chocolate mousse?” my sister once asked.

I replied by giving around half an hour lecture on chocolate, cream, ganache detailing the Hows and Whys of the method bla bla bla… She stopped me and said, “Okay, I gave up. It’s just too complicated.”

I am so used to reading books written for professional chefs and teaching chefs-to-be that I overlook what my sister actually needs is a simple 1-2-3 recipe. And then I come across this interesting website, They Draw and Cook. Here, artists from around the world use beautifully illustrated recipes to bring joy back in the kitchen. These illustration awake my crayon childhood. They certainly ring a bell that cooking can be simple and fun, can’t it?

My relatives who just came back from a trip to France complained to me that they had enough bread, and especially baguette, for the rest of their life. To many people in Asia, a bread with a hard crust is considered stale.   Soft buns, sandwich bread and flat bread remain dominant in the bread market.

Sandwich is convenient. Put any filling in between two slices of bread, your meal is complete. However, there are times when you are so busy that you only have one free hand to hold your food (Boss, I am working very very hard). It becomes irritating when some fillings (like onion, pickles, sauce) drop off from the sandwich. Grr.  Solution: I made bread tube instead.  Mess free.

When searching for the usage of bread, I came across a brilliant food designer, Katja Gruijter’s website. She has fascinating ideas on using food as her design material. During ancient times, stale bread was made into trenchers, a bread plate slightly hollow in the centre, to fill up food. Katja Gruijter designs a bread plate in the form of a palette. A great alternatives to paper plates used for buffets. More and more merchants are charging consumers for plastic bags requested to encourage consumers to live in a more environmental friendly way. Again, Katja Gruitjer’s breadbag sparks.

Bread, oh bread. If you experienced kneading bread dough to a smooth ball, waiting patiently for the dough to rise, and especially, inhaling the smell of fresh bread from oven, you will find that no matter how badly you have shaped your bread, you will still easily set your bread apart from the commercially mass produced variety. There’s a saying that before you decide on parenting a newborn, try parenting a plant first. What about the idea of parenting a yeasted bread? When was the last time you heard the calling of yeast?

 

“Mari mari merry oom. Beli Beli berry boom.”

Once upon a time, on a dark silent night, a wizard cast a spell in Cameron Highlands. The next day, residents in Cameron Highlands were surprised that many of them shared the same message from their dream: strawberry =prosperous.

A brainstorming session began (and it never ends).

“Let’s grow strawberry.” Good, but not enough. “Let’s grow strawberry and engage visitors to pick them!” Seems fun. Kasimanis Strawberry Farm, Raju’s Hill Strawberry Farm, Healthy Strawberry Farm, EQ Strawberry Farm, KHM Strawberry Farm, Big Red Strawberry Farm, Mountain Strawberry Farm…On my last visit to Cameron Highlands, I spotted easily a dozen strawberry farms.

Strawberries. Strawberries. What to do with it? Eat it. Sure. Sell it.  Definitely. Process it. We have strawberry milkshake, strawberry and cream, strawberry ice cream, strawberry jam, chocolate dipped strawberry, strawberry shortcake. We have strawberry-themed restaurant like Strawberry Moment. Hey, but we still have TONS OF strawberries! Ideas! Ideas! Roti canai (indian flat bread) with strawberry, nasi goreng (fried rice) strawberry…F&B outlets are squeezing their brain to put strawberry in the menu. What’s the weirdest strawberry dish you ever tasted?

Visitors need to bring home all these luscious juicy memories. “Souvenirs!” Strawberry pillows, strawberry umbrellas, strawberry magnets, strawberry slippers… Red is catchy. Now, give me slogans. “Think strawberry.” “Simply strawberry.” Try Sloganizer for more options. Not strawberrised yet? Stay at Strawberry Park Resort. Take photo with giant strawberry sculptures.  Make a homemade strawberry facial mask. At Cameron Highlands, strawberry never sleeps.

Strawberry is indeed a tourist magnet that brings prosperity to Cameron Highlands. The Highlands is crowded, especially during weekends. You picked or bought your strawberries, but you would probably be finishing it on your way back. No, not because these glossy strawberries that claimed to be organic are sweet and addictive. It’s because you are stuck in the traffic and are hungry for food. Flashy strawberry souvenirs are drowning the green landscape. Watch out, strawberry has gradually mutated into a ladybird and infecting Cameron Highlands. Should resources be spent on researching and improving strawberry quality? Or another strawberry themed toy or folly? Who is living happily ever after in Cameron Highlands? Strawberry or ladybird?

Scenario A: At a fruit stall in Cameron Highlands

What’s the name of this fruit?

Cameron apple.

(Apple? It doesn’t resemble apple at all?! )

How do you tell if it’s ripe?

Light colour and green skin is not ripe, yellowish skin with dark purple stripe is ripe.

How much does it cost?

RM1 each.

Scenario B: At home with a few of these fruits at hand and an encyclopedia of ingredients.

What exactly is the name of this fruit?

Solanum muricatum. Or more commonly known as Pepino.

(Not related to apple at all, I really wonder how the farmers at Cameron Highlands come out with the idea of naming it Cameron apple)

How does it taste like?

Soft texture, taste like a combination of cantaloupe, honeydew and pear. Sweet and super juicy (bursting out like those oranges in Sunkist advertisement)

What should I do with it?

Eat by itself (skin removed), add to your fruit salad or like what I did: caramelised it and served with blancmange.

One of the great things I learned by teaching others is to ask WHY.

There are a lot of recipes telling you: first you do this then you do that, follow by this and that. Even in a professional kitchen, you are so accustomed in doing things in a certain way until it becomes a routine or common sense. When being questioned, a more experienced chef/cook will probably answer: “it’s just the way it’s done”.

Freshies in patisserie are like kids who like to ask lots of question. As papa or mama, sometimes you can get away with your kids endless question by saying: you will know it when you grow up. However, for eager freshies, they NEED AN ANSWER. Luckily, it’s convenient to perform some research on internet, and with the popularity of molecular gastronomy and food science, reference is usually readily available.

When making custard, why do you add half of the sugar to the milk and the other half to the egg?

Why not all into milk? or all into egg? Why half and half? Why not 1/4 and 3/4? Why? Why? Why?

1. If you add all your sugar into your milk, you may need to wait for a longer time for the milk to heat up before you can add to your egg.

2. If you add all your sugar into your egg, you may need to whisk it longer to ensure sugar and egg are mixed properly. Over-whisking will create too much air bubbles in your mixture. Too much air bubbles will affect the smoothness of custard like crème caramel.

3. Sugar is a poor heat conductor. By adding a layer of sugar on the bottom of a pan when heating milk can prevent milk from burning onto the pan.

So, actually in this case, it actually doesn’t matter how much you add your sugar into the milk IF your are mixing the milk, sugar and egg carefully. To be honest, sometimes, methods are just up to own preference or norm, no big theory. I’m definitely not a food scientist, but I believe understanding the WHYs behind the HOWs will give you more freedom to play around with a recipe.

Have fun WHY-ing.

Parents get kids who refuse to eat green vegetable to watch Popeye the Sailor Man. After gulping down a can of spinach, Popeye becomes so muscular and powerful. Wow, he is a hero. The cartoon, Popeye, is indeed a beautiful mistake.  Science studies later have discovered that spinach does not contain more iron than other green leafy vegetables.

It’s not just Popeye that is portraying food fantasies. Remember Tom & Jerry? Tom, the cat, uses all sorts of tricks to catch the mischievous but smart little mice, Jerry. Tom frequently sets mousetraps with cheese as a bait with no success. According to researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, backed by the Stilton Cheese Makers’ Association, mice prefer foods with a high sugar content, not cheese.

Cartoons are very influential, especially to kids who don’t have the knowledge to tell what is right or wrong. Even adults will fall into product placement marketing in movies. If your kids crave for pizza, have you let them watch too much Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?