Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Family & Other Animals

Unfortunately, I live with only one member of my family, but the animals in our life are a numerous and often surprising cast.
For example, when I got up at 5.30 this morning, a tiny blinking light high up in the living room proved the be a firefly, the first we've ever had in this house. It was like a star trying to avoid the dawn — so lovely I watched it for about 5 minutes before going on to the lawn and doing my Chi Kung exercises as the sun came up.

As the windows in our house are never closed, and as there are open ventilation panels at the top of the walls, almost anything can (and does) come into the house. Over the years — apart from the everyday insects, moths, grasshoppers, bugs etc — we have had:

* snakes: harmless grass snakes but they do give you a surprise when you're reading on the couch and suddenly realise you're sharing it with a serpent.

* big black scorpions: these I DON'T like, even though they will only give you a very painful sting but won't kill you. They used to be fond of scuttling across the floor in the dead of night — not nice if you're padding barefoot to the bathroom in the dark. Fortunately we haven't seen one inside for several years.

* a Copper-throated Sunbird that was nesting in the jasmine bush against our verandah; she following insects attracted by the light inside and unbeknown to us, spent the night perched on our bedroom ceiling fan (luckily it wasn't on). She survived, the egg hatched and all lived happily ever after.

* a small bat that has been scooting in and out of the living room these past few nights, obviously chasing insects that were invisible to us.

Even though mon capitaine is up north in Kudat for 4 evenings each week, I'm never really alone here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Triple Treat

We are now in the midst of what the locals call the fruit season. Not that we can't get a huge variety of tropical fruit year round, but that there are certain highly prized fruits that appear just once (or sometimes twice) a year, depending on subtle changes in temperature and rainfall. The entire house is almost vibrating with the smell of durian (on the left of the fruit tray) and tarap, the hedgehog-like brown fruit at the back, although the oblong green soursop (right) doesn't smell.

We both agree that the durian is unsurpassed in terms of overall sensory experience. Its pungent odour (like that of a latrine, according to durian haters) becomes ambrosial once you love the flavour. But it's not just the taste. The sticky creamy flesh clings to your fingers, forcing you to lick them for every last bit of the unique caramel-sherry-onion flavour, and all the while, the fragrance is making your head spin. You don't eat a durian, you have an intense relationship with it.
The soursop is another matter entirely. The sparkling white flesh has an incredible balance of acidity and sweetness, but the multitude of shiny black seeds means it is best to squeeze out the pulp and turn it into a sorbet or jelly. To be eaten with little sighs and murmurs that maybe, just maybe, it's almost as good as durian.

The humble tarap must be eaten with the fingers, the seed-filled white globes of flesh carefully savoured as you try to describe the flavour. Is it a hint of pineapple, or peach, with perhaps an overlay of turps? It's a waste of time trying to describe it. Just go ahead and enjoy!

Friday, October 10, 2008


My lovely La Rossa has just been murdered. Our evil dog Bisou, who looks like a thoroughbred dingo, grabbed her this morning shortly after she was let out for her daily forage around the garden. Despite having lived amicably with the hen for more than a year, Bisou suddenly grabbed her by the neck and ran around with her. Every time I tried to catch Bisou, she raced under the house with poor La Rossa hanging from her mouth. So now I'm left with a grazed knee and elbow (I slipped on the wet path), and a heavy heart. I really DO NOT LIKE DOGS and keep them only for security reasons.

Poor La Rossa, such a sad end for an unusual companion.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Some of my favourite recipes just happen to be of the Keep It Simple Stupid variety. As I keep my kitchen well stocked with spices and special flours such as besan or chickpea flour, I can make recipes such as this (based on a recipe by the wonderful Madhur Jaffrey) without having to make a run on the shops.

500-600 g skinless chicken breast or boneless thighs, in 2-3 cm cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
melted butter or vegetable oil for basting
3 tablespoons plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon chickpea flour (besan)
1 teaspoon very finely grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a pulp with 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder, preferably freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder

Sprinkle the chicken with the salt and lime juice and set aside while you prepare the marinade.
Put the yoghurt in a bowl and add all other ingredients, mixing well. Put in the chicken pieces, stir to coat thoroughly then set aside for at least 15 minutes. I usually refrigerate the chicken for an hour or so, but it really depends on what happens to be convenient; you could even leave it overnight.
Thread pieces of chicken onto the skewers, brush with melted butter or oil and grill under moderately high heat for about 7-8 minutes, basting a couple of times and turning to cook until golden brown all over. Serve hot with lime wedges.