Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mummy's in the house

As you know, married life can sometimes get a little routine (and hence the lack of updates on my blog) but September came someone to break the stable monotony. I thought I did not miss her all this time being away from home but when she arrived, the all-too-familiar nagging started and that really felt like home, something that I miss. And yes, I am not ashamed to admit it–I am a mummy’s boy and I miss my mother.

Ision and I slaved two days before over cleaning the apartment and I must say it was at its cleanest when she came. On the day of my mum’s arrival, seeing no sign of her 40 minutes after her plane landed got me a little worried but it was just a crowded airport slowing things down (we all know how efficient Australians are). Seconds into our meeting it was as if we have not been apart at all and the warmth of family and motherly love penetrated me deeply.

I did not plan for a trip back to Singapore originally but seeing that air tickets are so cheap now, I booked a flight back over Chinese New Year 2010 after arranging for my mum to come. I intend to take a month off from work for my trip home so I had to save my vacation leave for that. This meant that I could only show my mum around in the weekends. I felt bad leaving her at home doing nothing other than watching television, cooking, strolling in the neighbourhood and of course stuck with someone whom she was separated from by an almost insurmountable language barrier. However I am sure she would enjoy seeing me very much when I am back home next year so conserving my days off is of utmost importance.

Did I mention cooking? Yes I did and boy did I miss home-cooked food prepared by my mum. When I took my first bite of home-cooked goodness in more than a year, my expression was one of relaxed ecstasy. It was soothing, exhilarating, warm and loving all at the same time. It was a feeling that is hard to describe and Ision thought my reaction to the food was rather amusing. It was a pity I did not take any pictures of the glorious dinners prepared by the number one chef in my heart. Here is a partial list of what my mum cooked for Ision and I.

- Pork ribs in dark soy sauce with tau pok (fried beancurd) and hard-boiled eggs
- Fried wantons stuffed with minced pork and mixed vegetables
- Claypot rice with chicken drumsticks, salted fish, Chinese sausage and carrots
- Fried vermicelli with cabbage, carrots, dried shrimps and onions
- Curry chicken Hokkien noodles with potatoes
- Pumpkin omelette
- Pork siew mais (dumplings)
- Fried fish with chilli, garlic and spring onions in a dark sauce
- Thinly-sliced pork fried with capsicum and onions
- Fried rice with Chinese sausage, crab sticks, prawns, salted fish, omelette and onions
- Minced pork ball soup with cauliflower, mushrooms, baby carrots and konnyaku
- Yang Chun noodles in black bean sauce with pork mince and steamed gai lan (Chinese broccoli) in abalone sauce
- Fried minced pork balls with cooked salted egg yolk centre
- Dry wanton egg noodles with ikan bilis (dried anchovies) soup
- Sweet and sour pork with fresh tomatoes
- Fried celery with prawns, mushrooms and onions
- Fried ngoh hiangs (minced pork and prawns with five-spice powder wrapped in beancurd skin)
- Hainanese chicken rice with steamed chicken garnished with cucumber and tomatoes

Being an avid cooker and eater, Ision naturally wanted to learn how to make some of the dishes that he relished so much and so at my request, mum dictated the ingredients and steps to make those mouth-watering treats with which I quickly filled many notebook pages. Ision told me that he has not tasted Hainanese chicken rice as delicious as the one my mum made from scratch. Well you are in luck for here is the amazingly-simple recipe:

- 1 whole chicken
- 2 cups of jasmine rice
- 8 – 10 cloves of garlic
- Ginger (half the size of your palm)
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- Lump of rock sugar (1/3 the length of your index finger) (or 1 teaspoon of normal sugar)
- 1 cucumber
- 3 tomatoes

1) Mash 7 cloves of garlic and ginger and form a mixture with the salt.
2) Evenly coat the chicken with the mixture and stuff the remaining bits into the chicken.
3) Fill 1/3 of a wok with water and once the it boils steam the chicken with high heat for 10 minutes.
4) Continue steaming the chicken with low heat for 20 minutes. The chicken will now be cooked.
5) Using the water in the wok (now containing juices from the chicken), steam the rice in a rice cooker. Add more water depending on how soft you want the rice to be. Taste-test the water mixture before steaming the rice and fine-tune according to taste. Just before steaming, add sugar, 3 garlic cloves and a slice of ginger into the rice.
6) Steam the rice till the water is dry and serve rice with cut chicken, garnished with cucumber slices and tomatoes.

Although I did not take pictures of the food, I did take a lot of pictures (mainly of mum) when we were out and about in Sydney. We roamed every nook of Chinatown, snaked through every cranny of Paddy’s Market, smelled flowers in the Royal Botanic Gardens, soaked in the sights along the sun-drenched Darling Harbour, posed outside the Opera House, people-watching at the Kings Cross red light district, visited The Australian Museum, strolled in Hyde Park, shopped at Paddington, explored the Sydney Fish Market and dined at a typical Aussie pub. Knowing that Sydney does not have a lot to offer to tourists (the beaches are not my mum’s thing, we did not have time for the Star City casino and I find Blue Mountains far too lame or is it simply just too far?), our visits were restricted to the city but that does not mean we did not have fun. And we have the pictures to prove it.

Frolicking in Chinatown. Mum did not expect Sydney to be so Asianized. I think that made her worry less about me being in this “foreign” country.

Spending an afternoon at Darling Harbour. Mum felt strange that Aussies love the giant gas ball so much that they picnic not in the shade but under direct sun. If they did this in Singapore she said, people will think that they are crazy.

We had to visit the red light district in Kings Cross especially when I live less than five minutes away. Nothing much was happening as we were there too early (it can get unsafe late at night with the gangs, drug addicts, drunkards and homeless people) but we did see some interesting people, if you know what I mean.

A panoramic shot with the two most famous Sydney icons taken using the new Sony camera being advertised via free shots uploaded onto the Internet. The perfect weather with the azure sky is one of the things I like most about Sydney.

Another nice shot of the Opera House. Mum loved this picture because of the intimacy between us. It was nice showing her around even if we only visited the tourist spots.

How could we let a yum cha opportunity pass with Ision off work on a Saturday? Being a very good cook, mum felt that this top-notch dim sum restaurant in Chinatown was only average. I think I agree with her to a certain extent but Ision loved it (surprise surprise).

I find mum very cute in this sort-of candid picture. We were at the Royal Botanic Gardens and were looking at all the species of flowers that we have not seen before.

Another city shot that mum liked a lot which I thought was too posed. This was taken after we witnessed a section of the bridge physically turn to one side to let tall ships pass.

The Sydney Fish Market was new to both of us and the time spent exploring it was the most enjoyable in the 16 days we were together. Mum loves to eat octopus a lot. I am not sure if that was reflected in her facial expression.

A fun-loving mum is what she is. The full length of the fish could not be captured from where I was standing (it was packed!) but it could easily be as long as her. My mum loves shopping but not in the conventional sense–she likes to shop for food, especially stuff that is not available in Singapore–what a great housewife.

When at the Fish Market, you eat lobster, plain and simple. My niece back in Singapore yearns for lobsters (having not had it before) and this picture was taken to make her drool.

Many visits to Paddy’s Markets were made to amass the ingredients used to make those yummy dishes. $270 was spent on groceries alone during her trip. In this picture, she was amazed at the size of the chilli.

Sauntering in Hyde Park and a photo op. She walks really slowly because her knees are not strong so it was hard catching up to her slow speed whenever we go out (here or back in Singapore)–she was always more than 3 steps behind me. I guess I must learn to relax more in this country famous for its laid-back lifestyle.

I took a sick day off work on Monday so that I could spend more time with mum and we visited The Australian Museum. Of course this museum was nothing compared to the Smithsonian I was at some years ago but it helped to burn a number of hours in this boring city. This picture was taken at the extinct animals exhibit and she could not help but get a little cheeky with her pose.

A long relaxed shopping trip to Paddington landed us at the Paddington Markets. You would think that a “market” would have cheap things on sale right? Well you now know why we ended up with nothing bought. Mum was impressed by the variety and design of the hand-made fashion accessories though.

This was taken on the last day hours before we went to the airport. I felt really close to her and that I would miss her a lot after she is gone. As for the pose of this picture, I have always wanted to do something like this. My mum is surprisingly light!

On the roof-top of my apartment where we could see the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. They did not both appear in the picture because no one was there to take it for us and the timer shot had a very restricted angle. Nevertheless I really like this picture–looking at it instantaneously brings mum to my side again.

Many nights were spent at home watching downloaded horror movies and snacking on the couch as the Sydney night life revolves around drinking which mum doesn’t do. On one night we were watching while downloading and as soon as the movie was downloaded, we started watching it. Ah... I will miss my fellow horror movie buddy.

A snapshot of how my fridge looked like when mum was here. We had 3 major rounds of grocery-shopping which constantly stocked the fridge. Ision liked the sight of the packed fridge, something which the apartment has not seen before. I still have some of the food left untouched–better use them up soon.

The wonder chef at work. As she is quite short, the high stove meant that her arms and shoulders got tired very quickly and the aches were there throughout her trip. A mother’s love knows no bounds... And Ision should know how lucky he was to benefit from her dedication and culinary expertise.

Toiletries belonging to mum, me and Ision. This picture concisely depicts how well the three of us shared the small apartment. From the picture, how smooth do you think things ran?

Having mum living in our apartment which is strictly meant only to house two people, it got a little crowded and inconvenient at times (I did not feel this way though). With people thrown into tight quarters, friction inevitably caused frustration and things I was unhappy with happened. Fortunately it did not get out of hand and my mum’s trip ended on the same happy note it started on. We were both a little sad and misty-eyed when the last day of her trip came as I sent her off at the airport. But we will see each other again in 4 months and in no time, she will be nagging at me again to take a shower, clean up the house or something else that I will ignore.

Home-cooked food, curling up on the couch watching horror movies with the lights off, exploring new places together, my mum’s loving voice and touch. I thought I did not miss all of these–I guess this is not the first time I get myself wrong.