My Darling Won!

Note: I wrote this before I found out Colin Firth and The King’s Speech won the Oscars. Which means, yay for him! The entry is kinda spoilery so avoid it if you have not seen the movie.

I’ve never met a woman that did not like Colin Firth. It’s just trufax. And any woman who does not like Colin Firth, clearly has not seen the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Of which I’ve seen, what four times now?

My friend K tells me that Colin Firth has a very talented ability to stalk people – as he does in P&P. He doesn’t get why women like him so much. Honestly, that man can stalk me any day – it’s fine. I love him.

When I heard about The King’s Speech, just as production was starting, I had already wanted to watch it. There’s just something perennially sexy about Colin Firth, and what would be better than Colin Firth as the brooding Mr. Darcy? Well, just about nothing really but I will take him as the stammering Prince Albert who went on to become the reluctant King George VI.

I’m not a big fan of historical novels and movies, unless it has some sort of revisionist take on it e.g Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock but I was willing to put my prejudices aside for this one.

And you know what? I was right (and well, so were the other five people who told me that I ought to watch it and I would love it and my brother who told my parents, this was going to be Lin’s “favouritest movie” ever).

It was so, so good. I sat throughout the movie, enraptured by Colin Firth the story, the tentative relationship with his speech therapist, a failed actor by the name of Lionel Logue.

There were so many little details about the movie that caught to me and perhaps resonated with me. Despite my love for Colin Firth (can you not tell?), I have to be honest, it was Lionel’s story that caught me, the prejudice he went through as an Aussie and his struggle and desire for greatness, despite being labeled a ‘failed actor’.

The script was written very well, if a little oddly at first. The three act structure was created a little strangely and none of the culmination of events that leads to the explosive pinnacle before the denouement. And *spoiler alert*, the subject of interest, the speech itself, naturally will be at the end of the movie.

I thought it was originally a play – the shots and cuts between scenes made if feel like a play. I was pleased to find out that the writer, had originally written it out as a play to emphasize the relationship between Logue and Bertie. Their relationship reminded me of the sea, for some odd reason, with ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs, coming together and coming apart at different points in time.

It was, funny to say, realistic. Real life events rarely make good stories, real life narratives are not interesting enough to make a story (despite the subject in itself being interesting – a narration that follows real life narration tends to be dull). There was none of the over-dramatic falling out, just as in real life, with our very good friends, we have a few terse words with each other, we stop talking for a bit and then we come back together again.

It theoretically would have been so dull, in an era where we are fed with bombastic language and imagery, where if a revolution does not happen in 3 days, we are bored already and we change the channel. A slow buildup of friendship theoretically would have bored the audience to tears.

Despite the lack of shoutiness, the lack of anything particularly exciting i.e. there were no fighting robots, no Bertie standing by the edge of the roof on Buckingham Palace feeling suicidal – really the most tense scene was during his speeches where you pray he does not stammer and I was completely enraptured by Bertie’s struggle. The movie was emotional despite the dialogue not being overtly so. You watch the characters struggle without words, allowing the strength of the actors and the story to shine through. How I wish it was me who wrote the scene where Bertie reaches to hug his daughters and they curtsy before him instead. His expression showed it all, him feeling crushed when it dawned upon him that even to his daughters, he was King first, papa second made me cry.

The script went against a lot of what I was taught and read about writing. Usually, we’re taught what we want to see is the hero going through a journey of constant obstacles. We want to see a hero, a journey of when a hero is thrust with greatness, we see the journey of him stepping up to mark. We root for him as he overcome each obstacle – he is the Hero.

The King’s Speech is nothing of the sort – it was less a journey of the hero stepping up to mark from his own volition, more than he did it out of duty more than anything, and you watch him try very hard to avoid the greatness that heroes usually crave.

And it worked remarkably for the movie. A total must watch for the year. And I think Jan’s right. This is my favouritest movie.

And oh yeah. Colin Firth is still hot.

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Tension Not. This is India.

I would like to say greetings from Kolkata but that would not be true. I’m back home next to the husband who is currently on his overpriced manga reader (I kid, he has actually started using the machine for what he intended it for and so, now it’s a cross between an overpriced manga reader and a dangerous tool for automating the entire house. Today finances, tomorrow, there will be a little robot that will clean the house – and one that I have to watch suspiciously in case he decides to rebel and declare robot war on me).

I am however, feeling rather surreal. India does this to me. I was only away for five days and it feels like I’ve been gone for a long, long time. There are just so many things that happen, just so many things to see that it’s an assault on all my senses and you are just so overwhelmed. There are so many things to take in, to remember and to share that I’m usually quite exhausted at the end of the trip. I still am – it feels like a blur to be back in Malaysia, as though India is the reality and Malaysia is the dream.

I love India. Make no mistake about it, I am irrationally fond of that irrational country. It’s not an easy country to adapt to at first. When we arrived, we got into an argument with our driver – who did not speak a word of English. And then at the hotel, we nearly got into an argument with the duty manager over our room. Lying down in bed in our new room, I thought the trip to India was mad and probably unwise. It’s one thing to be a child of an expat versus going there for work on your own.

The second day was just as difficult as the first. My hired car arrived at the hotel, superbly dented with a driver who could not speak a word of English. Despite trying pidgin English with him, clearly there was no communication and we were frantically signaling each other. Furthermore, I’ve discovered a country where Google Maps just don’t work in – India. The driver thought we were mad, who on earth knows road names in India, and how on earth was her going to find Jawaharlal Nehru road in the middle of the city? Damn these silly women, can’t they go to Victoria Memorial like most tourists do?

Funnily enough, as though by fate, we drove by a road behind our hotel with an advertisement by a hotel regarding their event management services. Their ad read: “No tension.” And it was a good enough as any mantra to abide by, and each time something happened during the trip that would have given me hypertension, I chanted to myself, “Tension not, tension not”.

When you allow things that would usually rile you up in your own country to slide, do you see the beautiful and mad parts of Kolkata to emerge. This is the part of India that I adore. So eventually, we figured out a way to communicate with our otherwise very accommodating driver and things continued on rather smoothly.

I’ve never been to Kolkata, and was keen to soak up every little difference Kolkata was to Delhi. Kolkata lacked a lot of sophistication Delhi has. It certainly lacks the hunger that Delhi has for capitalism and business, but I reckon it’s probably due to its Communist government. The last time I’ve seen the infamous sickle and scythe symbol was in Prague, a dreadful remnant of their communist past. It’s fascinating to actually be in a city where communism was alive and well and that symbol is used proudly, in every day use.

It being a business trip, I did not have any time to walk around and soak in the city. The only time I did have was when my driver would switch off the engine to conserve fuel (although I reckon he used up more doing that) and thankfully or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, it happened very frequently.

Kolkata, as a city, was mad for protests. In the five days I was there, I saw three and was made aware that I missed one on February 13th, where the communist party encouraged everyone to protest the hike in food prices. I saw one in front of HSBC, protesting for minimum wage, one in front of a posh club where all these people were doing a sit in. And then down by College Street, where there are hundreds of little stalls selling any book that you need (I got Eizwan’s Java programmer book here, latest edition, a steal at only RM 40!), there was some sort of campaign going on.

There were loud and passionate speeches, punctuated with shouts of Vande Mataram. Which of course, were ignored by the majority there who were just doing their shopping. It’s just so Indian! There were all these protests going on and everyone else just went about their daily lives. Not to mention there were all these chaiwallahs selling their teas and peanut vendors selling peanuts to hungry protestors doing their sit ins.

Foodwise, unfortunately, due to work, we ate mostly at the hotel. It is not as sad as it sounds since food in India is almost always, if you keep to the local stuff, brilliant. We did have a few chances to eat out, and the most memorable one was at Azad Hind Dhaba to have Kolkata’s most famous snack – the kathi roll. The kathi roll is essentially a paratha, with spiced chicken with egg inside with, and I realized it only after I bit into the roll, fresh onions and chilli with a gorgeous squeeze of lime. For the uninitiated, it is generally a rule of thumb for foreigners, no fresh or uncooked vegetables or unbottled water for hygiene reasons. But I thought, what the hell, and threw caution (and my diet) to the wind and ate the roll like there was no tomorrow.

I did come down with mild food poisoning on the last day for eating like a local but it was worth it.

While there were some differences to the Delhi I knew, many things still stayed the same. This was India after all. Even I regressed back to the spoilt 14 year old who moved to India many years ago. I got back into drinking more tea than coffee, I woke up every morning listening to MTV and Channel V’s Mindblasting Mornings. It was Bollywood mornings, and I caught up on the latest songs, Laung da Lashkara from Patiala House is my current favourite, bought stupidly cheap books and complained about the pollution, the traffic and just about everything.

The only shopping I managed this time was a bit of FabIndia and going mental at Music Express. I got about 20 Bollywood movies in total. My Bollywood movie collection is a prized collection of mine, since these DVDs have English subtitles as opposed to the poorly translated Malay subtitles. I’m a little sad that I was unable to catch Tanu Weds Manu and Saat Maaf Khoon. Ah well, till next time India, and till next time, I’ll fill up on my DVD collection.

And before I knew it, it was already time to leave Kolkata. We had a long lazy breakfast on the last day, almost to soak in, and I actually felt sad to say goodbye to the wait staff at the hotel I was staying in. They were so friendly and welcoming, heck, most everyone I met in Kolkata, be it for work, at shops, and restaurants had been so warm and friendly that I felt quite sad to go home. As I headed to the airport, I’m going to miss the little things that made India so special – down to the vendor that sold disco balls in the streets to anyone who would like one for their car, or the manky cat  and the mosquitoes inside Kolkata’s International airport. Okay, maybe not the mosquitoes.

But I’m happy to be home with the husband and the cats. And almost as always, I return from India, feeling excited and rejuvenated about life – like I can seize the day and do anything. Suppose you can survive India, you can survive anything.  Already I am planning to go back to India, this time round, hopefully I can bring my mother-in-law who has been wanting to see the Taj Mahal all her life. And then to the tea plantations. Maybe to the safaris.

Jai Hind!

Curing Part 3: Your very own smoked salmon-ish.

And then I leave off my curing series without following up to it.

No, that’s true. I’ve been meaning to continue on the curing series but the past one week has been very hectic. I have been getting ready for a working trip to India, and where India is concerned, my concentration is at 100% on India.

But it did not mean I’ve forgotten my intentions to blog about my experiments. Heh.

In the second part of my curing blog entry, I blogged about the dozen of problems faced with curing and I decided to work off two things: beef and salmon. The salmon was a real success and so hopefully it’ll distract people from my uh…interesting results with beef bacon.

You have to pardon the pictures, my camera is busted and I’m using my useless Nnokia.

The salmon was really easy to do. We grabbed the salmon from the frozen section in Cold Storage, dusted it with a combination of salt, sugar and pepper. I only had about 200 grams of salmon, so I halved the recipe by Chef John.

Real gravadlox actually has lots of dill, but I was too impatient (and a little broke after  spending on the ingredients for curing) to actually hunt them down. But you can get them from any reputable supermarket.

There are some things worth noting though when I did this experiment. Use flaky salt as opposed to fine table salt. I’ve once used normal table salt in another salting experiment (it was an experiment that went horribly wrong, that resulted in everyone having to eat out for dinner) and found it too harsh and salty. Table salt is too fine and makes it difficult to spread evenly compared to sea salt or flaky salt. What you’re going to end up with is spots of uber-saltiness and some parts untouched by salt.

Unfortunately sea salt is ridiculously expensive so try and find Morton’s kosher salt. I paid RM 14 for 1.2kgs of salt at Jaya Grocer. Yes, stupidly expensive compared to table salt but well worth it. The other problem you’re going to find is that Jaya Grocer is manic when it comes to stocking. I haven’t seen Morton’s sea salt in a good few months but keep trying your luck. Cold Storage stocks Maldon but Maldon will set you back RM 20 for 200grams I think, but you only need a tablespoon for 200 grams of salmon.

I’ve yet to experiment using local sea salt and smashing it up myself – but will try one of these days. I’m unconvinced at this point since it’s not flaky like kosher salt and it might lead to the same problems as table salt has given.

Secondly, the experiment requires cheese cloth. Cheese cloth is impossible to find BUT I found on a Malaysian forum that you can use nappy cloth. Nappy cloth is expensive (RM 20 for a packet!) unless you’re a mum who has plenty of unused diapers (eww, used diapers) to spare, I don’t find it practical. In this case, I used the Chinese herbal soup cloth that you can find in Daiso or PJ old town (about RM 3 for 2 bags). It’s a little bit rougher than nappies but it’s just as fine and does a good enough job.

I was bloody impatient to try the salmon out after I’ve put it in for curing. On the day it was ready, I was at a very important doa selamat and despite the severity of the situation, all I could think about was rushing home and eating the salmon. When I took it out, it felt firm just as Chef John said it would be. Rinsed through it and then took a first slice.

I’m not going to lie to you and say it was heavenly. More like it was salty to the high heavens. But a few slices in and it was so, so good. It was already midnight when we unwrapped the salmon and the two of us could not stop munching on the salmon.

The next day I had it for breakfast. Simple toast, with cream cheese and a few slices of gravadlox. So good that I took a picture of it and MMSed it to the husband who got quite jealous.

I have however, learnt a few things. Firstly, if you’re hoping to save money on smoked salmon this way – don’t bother. You can purchase smoked salmon for about RM 15 per 100 grams (cheaper if you buy in bulk) in places like Jaya Grocer and Cold Storage. I paid RM 20 for 200 grams, so you’re only making a savings of RM 10. Worth it? Well, it depends. Certainly, this isn’t really smoked but just cured. Similar texture and flavour, just missing the nice smokey flavour profile that you get with professional smoked salmon.

Secondly, I would buy the fresh salmon on the counter as opposed to the frozen salmon. I’ve found each time I buy frozen fish from Cold Storage, it has a slight rubbery texture. It could just be me however, so I will experiment again soon. The next time it’ll be with salmon from the sashimi counter. A bit more expensive but probably better tasting.

Will I do this again? Why yes! It’s really satisfying to have your own smoked salmon. I’m a little addicted to curing now, and have already in my mind, thinking of ways to cure other types of fish like the humble tenggiri (mackerel), heck, and even investing in a barbecue set to do proper smoking.

But of course, this depends on whether my beef bacon experiment works….

Rejected!

So today, I received my first rejection letter. One of many, I reckon. No, not for any book writing – that is nowhere near ready but for some work that I’ve been doing.

I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed. I am. The first feeling is disappointment, a little crushing feeling inside my heart. After that it’s anger. Like of course, no one trusts you. If only you’re some big hot shot, people only look at hot shots. Even if the hot shots aren’t good. And then you question yourself, like why aren’t you a hot shot? Why haven’t you become a hotshot yet? Are you some sort non-performing twenty-something non-hot shot? And then that crushing disappointment returns coupled with another taste of humble pie. You can’t help but feel sorry for yourself. You feel really small. And then you question if this was the right way to go forward.

And then you eat something indulgent. My friend S, eats pink cupcakes. I drink coffee. Whole milk please, nothing of that skimmed milk nonsense.

And then you get over it. I usually say, “Meh.”

Ever since I’ve decided to go on my own, I’m getting better at rejections. Gotta develop a thick skin for it, especially since before, it was easier to do any sort of business when you are backed by a fancy company. Not so when you’re just little old you.

I wish I could say rejections get easier with time, but they don’t. However, the recovery time is a lot faster. I don’t pretend that I’m not disappointed. I’ve done that before and it sort of boils together and I get into an argument, usually with the husband about dishes and then I end up bursting into tears screaming, “This damn plates are a lot like that time when so-and-so told me that I’m not good enough to go on my own.”

Boyfriends, husbands, listen up. It’s never about the damned dishes.

In this case, I’m thinking of how to go forward. The temptation to mope and lie down is there and each time this happens, it makes me want to give up a little. And then I think of some of my friends who have been working very hard to pursue their more noble dreams. And when I mean dreams, I don’t mean material wealth. I mean dreams like working towards a finance job that helps build roads and schools in poor countries. Or becoming a surgeon so that they can go on to volunteer in countries in Africa.

And I remind myself, whatever I’m doing, these are one of the many challenges that I will come across in pursuit of happiness.

So yes, I’m disappointed. But I’ll just make a cup of coffee. I keep myself busy. And then I move on.

Silence is golden for sleeping

Now that I’m writing again, I need a bit of background music to keep myself company. There are many pros and cons to writing with music, a lot of advice given out there say it is best to work with no music at all, with complete silence for full-concentration. So I say, yes, that usually works for me…for a good 10 minutes before I fall asleep from the silence.

So my word for it, is silence is golden for napping. And napping is not good for productivity – especially if you nap the way I do. My naps tend to rage out of control. The next thing I know, it’s the next day and I’ve no idea what had happened.

I used to write to a lot of contemporary pop but now that I’ve cut down on my morning commutes, I rarely listen to the radio these days (unless it’s the BBC radio stations, which you’ve seen me wax lyrical on my blog time and time again) so I’m not that up to date with the latest stuff. And I am starting to really enjoy songs before my era.

My cousin reckons I was born too late, I should have been born in the 70s or the 60s. While my sister on the other hand reckons that I’m regressing, working my way back in time – when I’m in my 30s, I would be enjoying Gregorian chanting.

To think that as a teenager, I mocked my good friend’s older brother for listening to Air Supply. The shame, for nearly 13 years later, I was at an Air Supply concert. I know. I try not to talk about it in polite society.

The beauty of writing again means I get to explore good music to write to. I’ve not found anyone ‘new’ i.e. people I’ve not listened to before, not new contemporary acts, as of yet. I’ve just going back to some of the old ones that I really liked to write to. As I get more and more into my writing, I’ll be posting the songs I listen to, sort of the soundtrack to my writings. So if it ever gets published, and you’re curious as to what inspired me – it’ll be here.

Right now, I’m writing to Simon and Garfunkel. It’ll change in a week or two, when I’m bored of their music. But I can’t imagine being bored of them anytime soon, Scarborough Fair is still as haunting as I heard it before many years ago and I still wail aloud to Bridge over Troubled Waters. The dog next door joins along sometimes.

Eizwan can’t handle my ability to listen to songs to death. Which is a good thing that he’s not at home while I work because for now, this household is being serenaded by the wondrous Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon.

Curing Part 2: Much problems encountered

Post my sojourn at Vineria IT, I spent a good three days reading up on curing meats. I was convinced that I would be able to recreate my own prosciutto. The foodblog world is littered with experiments by people doing mad things like curing their own pork and beef – surely I could make my own, here in the Malaysia. I mean granted, in colder countries – they easily cured their meats in a mild climate of 15 degrees Celsius, whilst I live in a country that easily top 35 degrees, fantastic for bacteria breeding – but I am determined to find a way.

The more I read, the greater my dreams became. I did not just want the beef prosciutto. I wanted duck bacon, better access to the sometime-questionable-quality-sometime-questionable-availability beef bacon, and I wanted to cure all meats the way they cure pork.

Why? Because I could.

But the more I read, the more I realized that this project of mine was tricky. Firstly, the reason why this was not done as often in Malaysia, was mostly because our weather is far too warm and humid to dry out meats outside safely. So, there was now this huge possibility of buying a fridge, a de-humidifier and a thermostat to recreate the perfect environment. I’ve already looked online, you could get a fridge for cheap – but the dehumidifier and thermostate requires a little bit more research. So hmm. I like meats. But not that much to invest in over an RM1000 for a curing cabinet. Not right now anyway.

Secondly, which was the biggest problem of the lot…I had no idea where to buy pink salts. I was hoping that I would be able to avoid using pink salts altogether but pink salts are almost an essential in a meat curing process. Whilst I was scared of getting such a risky product in Malaysia (too much pink salt can be toxic), the bigger problem being I don’t think I am able to purchase pink salts that easily in Malaysia. Short of actually importing them here – it seems my dreams of having papery thin prosciutto is resigned to Vineria IT.

Never one to give up, I thought fine. I’ll give up on the bresaola for now. But I’m not going to give up on the experiment, I should be able to cure something without pink salts and the curing cabinet right?

Right. I found two recipes and after much thought and tweaking, I duly informed the husband of said experiments. I explained to him all the various possible problems that we may encounter e.g. food poisoning, botulism, poisoning from nitrates and that I will take every precaution possible before I cure some meats. Husband listened and said, ‘Your approach to food is akin to me stabbing myself with a spear to test whether my chi is strong enough.’

But he did agree to help me out.

The two recipes I decided to follow were from Saveur and Chef John’s Foodwishes. I decided to try two things: one curing a salmon to make gravlax or gravad lax, depending who you’re talking to. I reckon that if it’s that simple, it would be no problem to do so and at least I can claim success on one experiment. The second one I opted to cure a hunk of beef, but a cure without pink salt. To solve the problem with botulism or any bacteria that might be breeding, I decided that I will smoke it – now how I was going to smoke it without any proper barbeque equipment, well, that remains an experiment designed in my head and will be tested on the day itself.

So stay tuned to see if the experiment is a success or if I will have to blog from the hospital.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Year of the Bunneh!

The streets are quiet and the shops are empty, and my husband is with me on this long weekend. Whilst most of my Chinese friends have to trek all over the country to visit relatives (haha! Your turn! Did my trek for raya!), my plans for this long and lazy weekend is just that, being long and lazy.

I’ve read a few horoscopes for the year of the Bunny, and apparently I am meant to have a good year ahead of me, work-wise and friendship-wise. Which apparently, so will Eizwan who was born in the year of the monkey. And my sister, who was born in the year of the dragon.

Huh. So that’s what you get when just browse for Master Zao’s prediction online as opposed to paying good money to a feng shui master. A generic prediction that will fit everyone. But it’s okay. I’ll take what I can get.

Which means, hopefully, a better year for reading (husband still doing way better on this front), a better year for dieting (still keeping to it save for last night), a better year for my writing (which now I’ve finally gotten more serious to putting at least a 1000 words a day) and a better year for entrepreneurship. Also, hopefully a better Doctor Who season 6 (not winning the NTA is proof, at least for me that I’m not the only fan that has lost interest in the show somewhat) and a more awesome Sherlock.

Happy the year of the Bunny everyone. For now I leave you to a trailer made in Korea for BBC’s Sherlock. The one that has made me yearning to write fanfiction again.

Oh, you know they do.