Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Workout Progress - Oct '07

October’s challenge was to see how much damage I would avoid doing to my diet plan during the Hari Raya break. After losing weight during the fasting month, I would in previous years gain it back by feasting on all that heavy and fattening festive delicacy. This year around, I promised myself to watch out for that tendency and be more calculative about the amount of food that I took in. I have to admit that it was hard to resist the temptation to binge during the holidays but I was not about to let nearly 10 months of dieting effort go down the drain. Looking back I think I did OK as I didn’t really gain much after coming back from my Hari Raya break. I would know for certain next week when I go for my InBody scan again but based on the bathroom scale I think that there was not too much damage.

Working with my PT during my gym workouts also have been helpful for me this past month. I’m currently averaging 5 gym visits a week with 3 PT sessions. My normal routine would usually consist of about 15 minutes of stretching exercises, 20 minutes of stationary bikes for cardio and about 45 minutes of either resistance weight training or circuit training. My PT has been very helpful in keeping me honest with my training and giving me the tools for me to learn how to get the most of the machines at the gym. He has also been an invaluable motivator to spur me on when I thing that I’ve reached my limits. I’m really glad to see the investment that I put in to engage a PT at the gym showing positive returns.

I still have a ways to go before I look anything like the guys you see on the health magazines but there has been noticeable physical changes. Chief among them was dropping 2 pants sizes which means that I would need to fork out money soon to get new pants tailored. I also see some definition happening in the shoulders and the upper arms area which is always encouraging. I have been receiving some comments from friends and co-workers who have noticed the changes in my body weight which is always a good self-image booster. The best one I got was from my old secondary teacher who told me that I look better now than I ever did in school which was surprising for me since I always thought that I looked my best while I was in secondary school. It may be superficial and shallow but for someone with self-image issues like I do, hearing something like that just gives me the confidence to continue on the current path that I’m on.

Diet plan in Oct ( post fasting month diet)

Breakfast (8 am)
- 1 cup fat free yogurt
- 2 banana or
- 1 serving of oatmeal

Brunch (10 am)
- 1/2 serving of plan fried rice with tempeh goreng or greens
- 1 hardboiled egg (alternate working days – 2 whole eggs total per week)
- 1 serving of fruits

Lunch (12 pm)
- 1 Spirulina cereal 3 in 1 mix.

Snacks (4 pm)
- 1 Nature Valley Granola bar (Apple Crisps, Almond and Pecan have lowest calories)
- Japanese Green Tea

Dinner (7 pm) – non workout days (Tues/Sat)
- buy something roughly less than 300kcal

Workout Days (M/W/Thurs/F: 8 – 10 pm, Sun: 4 – 8pm)
Pre workout
- EAS Creatine Powder – 10mg
- 3 homemade tuna sandwiches on wholemeal bread.

Post workout
- tomato juice immediately after workout (when I remember to buy some)
- EAS Myoplex Deluxe Protein Shake 1 hr after workout as dinner

Supplements :
EAS Creatine Powder – 10mg per day
EAS Myoplex Deluxe Protein Shake – ½ serving post workout
21st Century’s HerbalLipo Tea – 1 serving per week day
GNC MegaMen Dietary Supplement – 1 tablet per day

I’ve switched to having dinner before going to my workouts instead of after workouts in Oct. I had thought that I wanted to keep my body on fat burning mode by working out on an empty stomach but I soon found that I could not keep up with the workout intensity as I near the end of the session. I tried eating different types of food before my workout sessions and have discovered that tuna on wholemeal bread seemed to give me the best level of energy that I need to sustain the workout sessions. The meal was not too heavy that I would spend most of my gym session trying to burn it off but enough to give me the burst of energy I need. I’ve also discover that I could recover faster after each workout session if I ate before instead of after my workout.

Looking forward in November, my plan is to continue to increase the intensity of my workout as well as the levels that I put myself through. I have proven myself that I could do that in this past month when I went up a resistance level on the stationary bike for my cardio workout as well as sustaining a heavy intensity with little rest time in between during my circuit training. I also have to work on developing my muscle strength in November which my PT commented was markedly lower than my stamina level. The ultimate goal in muscle strength development would probably be to the point that I would be able to train with free weights safely which currently I can’t yet.

I might also try out some of the GX classes that they offered at the gym while I am at it as well in the coming month. I’ve been watching other people attend them and they looked like they were quite fun. I was thinking of trying out some introductory spinning and BodyJam classes. I guess the spinning classes would definitely be a possibility in the near future as I’m already doing most of my cardio on a stationary bicycle. The BodyJam session would be something that I have to really think about since I am absolutely lousy as tasks requiring any amount of physical coordination and rhythm. My PT is also recommending me to try their KickFit program at the gym which basically is kickboxing training but I’m a bit wary of embarrassing myself since I kick and punch worse than a girl.

I am encouraged by the results that I’m seeing and the feedback from people around me during this experiment. Every little bit helps as I continue on this current path.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Raya '07 : Berasak

“Berasak” is a rice dish that is not very well known outside of Johor and pureblood Johoreans. I first rediscovered it about 10 years ago when I spent my Hari Raya holidays with my relatives in Pontian, Johor. It was after a few years after my paternal grandmother’s death when my dad’s side of the family decided to resurrect the tradition of making our own “berasak”. I had it before as a kid but I never remembered it until I was told what it is much later. All the memories that I thought I had forgotten did came back with my first bite of “berasak” 10 years ago. It was a taste that I had long remembered and associated with my late paternal grandmother but never knew what it was.

“Berasak” is basically a rice dish that is popular among the Johoreans of Bugis descent which is usually made during celebrations like Hari Raya. In my father’s family we would either have normal rice ketupat or berasak since none of the people of that side of the family were fans of glutinous rice which make up lemang and ketupat palas. I have not actually seen the process of making the “berasak” since I was always unable to come back early enough to see it made but I was told of the process by my aunt who currently is the only one in the family that makes it for the rest. Much like my dodol, my aunt’s branch of the family is currently the only custodian of the family tradition which she makes to be distributed to everyone else.

The process of making “berasak” starts first with the one main ingredient that differentiate it from other festive rice dishes. Unlike ketupat, the “berasak” is wrapped in the young pisang nipah leaves. It can only be the leaves of this particular banana type as it imparts both flavor and color to the finished product. It is also the only type of banana leave that would held up to the rigors of the cooking process. The leaves had to be the very young ones that you would find still curled in a tube at the top of a banana tree. The leaves that have already unfurled further down the banana tree would not be usable in this instance.

Once the banana leaves are available, the rice would then be prepared. “Berasak” uses normal short grain white rice which is washed and the cooked in coconut milk much like making nasi lemak. It is important that only fresh coconut milk from the first pressing is used in the making of “berasak”. A little salt is added to the coconut milk before it is used to cook the rice with to enhance the richness of the coconut milk. Once the rice has fully absorbed the coconut milk and fully cooked, it is immediately portioned out onto squares cut out of the pisang nipah leaves. While the rice is still steaming hot, it is compressed into a tight rectangular shape which is then wrapped with the pisang nipah leave. The wrapping method is quite similar to how a kuih lepat is wrapped. Throughout the process of wrapping the “berasak”, continuous pressure is applied to it to ensure that the rice in it is compressed well.

The individual parcels of leave wrapped rice would then be grouped into groups of about 10 and wrapped again in a few layers of pisang nipah leaves. Each bundle would then be tied up as tightly as you could with either raffia string or heat resistant plastic raffia string. Tied up bundles would then go into a large pot of boiling water to be boiled for a minimum of 8 to 10 hours to fully cook the “berasak”. At the end of the process, the cooked rice inside the “berasak” parcels would expand more and become denser in texture. Once the cooking time has expired, the “berasak” is taken out and hung out in the kitchen area to dry before it can be opened and the individual wrapped rice parcel served.

Taste-wise, the “berasak” basically tastes like compressed nasi lemak. The pisang nipah leaves imparts a subtle aroma and taste to the rice inside which is quite unique when compared to other festive rice dishes like ketupat and lemang. It is also quite denser compared to the normal rice ketupat since it is cooked with coconut milk before being reboiled for a second time unlike the ketupat which is only boiled once. Unlike ketupat palas or lemang, you should not be able to differentiate the different grains of rice when you bite into a well made “berasak”. A well made “berasak” also travels well since it could last at least 2 weeks without refrigeration and up to a month if you kept it in chiller. The “berasak” however cannot be frozen as the resulting ice crystals would leech out the taste of the coconut milk from the rice.

Any side dish that you can eat with ketupat and lemang can also accompany the “berasak”. My family prefers to eat it with something that has more sauce that the normally dry beef or chicken rendang. My father for instance loves to eat his “berasak” with ikan masak assam pedas. I actually prefer eating it drenched fully in a really hot curry. The other peculiar way how we enjoy our “berasak” is that we only eat it after it has been chilled at least for a day in the fridge. I personally find that the low temperature actually enhanced the taste of the “berasak” and contrast beautifully with the heat from the curry that I put on it when I eat it.

Some pictures of the “berasak” that I brought back from my parents house last week.

(Wrapped bundle of berasak as it would look first taken out of the pot)

(About 10 pieces of individual wrapped berasak tightly tied within the bundle)

(The individually wrapped berasak which is the size of your normal kuih lepat)

(When unwrapped, the compressed rice is feels slick on the touch from the coconut milk, has a unique aroma and a greenish tinge in appearence)

(My favorite Hari Raya dish - Berasak with beef curry)

The “berasak” is another piece of my family heritage that I have begun to discover as I grow older. The rediscovery is somewhat of a bittersweet experience for me. On one hand it meant that it was time for us the younger generation of the family tree to know of our family traditions so we can continue the legacy. On the other hand it meant that the generation before us were getting older in age and would not be around for that much longer. There is a sense of racing against the clock to make sure that legacies are passed down to those who are willing and able to carry it. I personally know that I have a few things that will be coming my way and it would be my future responsibility to ensure that passed on to the next generation.

Legacies are so much larger than the individual. By passing it on, we carve a little bit of immortality for ourselves.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


You've Experienced 68% of Life

You have all of the life experience that most adults will ever get.
And unless you're already in your 40s, you're probably wise beyond your years.

Raya '07 : The Rest of the Hari Raya Break Days

Day 2 was suppose to start with a visit to some more relatives of ours in Kelang but I had to opt out of the trip. Woke up the second day feeling terribly bloated from all the food that I had the day before. One unfortunate side effect that I’ve seemed to have developed from dieting in the past year is that I keep feeling nauseous if I had too much to eat. I usually would take a cup of tea to keep that feeling in check but it didn’t really work for me that day. Given my predilection of getting motion sickness especially when I feel nauseous, I decided to forgo the drive out to Kelang and decided to stay home to recover.

I stayed in continuing my game of “Neverwinter Nights 2” that I’ve already spent nearly a few month’s worth of weekends on. The game storyline was still quite addictive even after all the time I’ve already spent on it. I was also expecting to have to entertain the neighborhood children who would usually turn up at your front door mainly to ask for their share of duit raya. Strangely enough, I hardly saw any come by this year. In fact, I did not see any children going out to visit the houses unattended like they normally do in previous years. I’m guessing that the recent tragedy of Nurin Jazlin was still fresh in everybody’s mind and would not dare let their children go out unattended like they would normally do.

In a way I was relieved that they did not turn up as I’ve never one to be patient with the greedy money grabbing children whose only reason to come was to get a duit raya packet from you. It’s bad enough that some don’t even sit long enough to eat something but to blatantly ask that you just give them money at the door when you open it was downright rude. But then again, the lost of childhood innocence due to the tragedy would definitely be regrettable. It’s terrible that children cannot feel safe in their own neighborhood and have to relent being cooped up in their own houses. Things have really changed since I was a kid back when dinosaurs walked the earth.

Those who went to Kelang came back at around 4 pm. They had planned to go straight to my uncle’s place in Sunway but it turned out that his whole family would be celebrating Hari Raya at his in laws place in Cheras. Since we didn’t really have any place else to go and visit, we just decided to spend the rest of the evening at home to recover from the past 2 days.

Day 3 was basically the last day of Hari Raya celebrations for us as most of the other members of my family started work on the next day. We had some friends of the family visiting but the highlight of the day had to be when both of my two brothers current girlfriends and my sister’s current boyfriend came to visit the family. It’s almost a rule in the family that if you wanted to bring anyone to meet the parents, a Hari Raya visit would be the best time. Everybody have forgiven everybody else for their past year’s grievances and everyone was in a more receptive mood to be introduced to the person you currently dating. Of course with them visiting, all eyes would fall on to me being the only one this year who had not brought anyone to meet the parents. I don’t know why they put on this act to be surprise that I didn’t since I have never brought anyone home to meet my parents. At least none of my female acquaintance.

Once the visits were done and over with, a few of us decided to spend sometime doing some shopping for my mum’s overseas trip. She wanted to get a new bag to replace the one that had a broken zipper as well as some warm sweaters to being to the trip. Since I had to pick up my monthly stash of comic books at my usual comic book shop, we decide to go out to One Utama to shop after my stop at the nearby Centerpoint mall. One Utama was already packed with shoppers when we go there so I guess that the crowds were already starting to come back to KL after the long weekend. Mum found the sweaters that she liked and I lucked on some t-shirts on sale from the DC Comics merchandise store that I had my eye on before. The original price was way too much for me to consider to be reasonable for a t-short but at a 70% price slash, it was hard to resist. Even my youngest brother got a few for himself even if he was not a comic book fan. We ended the day with a trip to Giant to get some groceries to stock up before mum left on her trip.

Day 4 was a quite day since everyone who had to work was already going back to work. Since we didn’t plan to do any traveling this year, no one, with the exception of me, took an extended leave of absence from work. I actually had to since I would be just wasting my allotted annual leave again if I didn’t clear them by the end of the year. I spend most of the day hooked on the computer playing my computer games. I guess in hindsight I could have done something more active than that but I was just in the mood to do a bit of online dungeon crawling and simulated hack and slash against an army of monsters. I did helped out my sister make a fresh batch of our cookies but baking wasn’t really something that I could get excited with. In the end I decide to do my laundry as I would hate to cart back my dirty clothes back from my parents’ place instead of to like any other sane person.

That night we went to my aunt’s place nearby for dinner as well as my cousin’s birthday celebration. There were quite a few people there when we arrived. The thing with my aunt was that most of the guest who came sounded very familiar even when you have never seen them before. This is because my aunt and her family were involved in voice acting jobs for local TV stations. They have lent their voices to several translated dramas and animated series which was always a hoot for me since I used to watch some of their work when I was younger. As a child I also did some voice work for radio but that stopped after my voice broke and I sounded too old for the parts that I was given up to that point. It was too young to do older parts on the radio so I just stopped doing them which effectively ended my 15 minutes of fame. Seeing some of the faces that I knew from back then and finding out who was doing which character in which cartoon series made for quite an enjoyable time.

Day 5 of Hari Raya was the last day I spent at home in Selayang. It was mainly my packing day as I had a few items that I needed to take back with me to Sunway. Chief among them were the homemade cookies that my sister made and the last bit of the dodol that I made. I’ve always made it a rule to bring back some of my Hari Raya cookies to share with friends ever since I was at boarding school. Nowadays I bring them back for my coworkers and a special batch for my boss. I also brought back some of the homemade berasak (check out what it is in a future entry) and tempeyek kacang that my second sister brought back from her visit to our Johor relatives while she was there visiting her in-laws. My aunt in Pontian would make them only during Hari Raya and the berasak especially was well worth the 1 year wait to get them.

Once mum got home, we started to pack up our things to leave. Mum had to meet up with the other participants of the conference that she was going to at KL Sentral so we made our first stop there. After saying our goodbyes, we went straight to Sunway to drop me off at my apartment. While the time spent at Selayang during the Hari Raya break was an enjoyable one, I was happy to be back at my own place. Guess that while having your family around you can be fulfilling, sometimes you just need your space to sit down and reflect on what you have. Of course for me it also meant that I could start going to the gym again to work off all the food that I’ve eaten during my Hari Raya break.

Whatever the reason was, I was happy to be back on my own.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Raya '07 : 1st Day (Part 2) - Of Family Traditions

After the short visit with the neighbors, we waited for my aunt and her children to rendezvous at our house before we went out to visit my late maternal grandmother’s grave. Being the eldest in her family, my mum’s place has always been the meeting point for my two aunts (I have no uncles on my mother’s side) on Hari Raya morning. This year my Mak Ngah (middle aunt) could not make it as not all her children were around that morning so it was just us and Mak Su (youngest aunt) with her five children. We drove to my late grandmother’s gravesite in Hulu Kelang to pay our respects and to offer our prayers to her. I have already went there a day earlier to clear up the gravesite and surrounding area so this was an extra visit for me personally this year. We also made plans to replace her grave marker next year since it would be the 10th year anniversary of her passing.

After my grandmother’s grave, we had another stop to make at my step mum’s gravesite in Kepong. My father took a second wife when I was about 15 years old and she basically was added to the family as my second mum but not without some amount of drama beforehand. They were married for about 12 years before she died suddenly from heart related complications back in 2000. My dad did not have any children with my second mum so we’re basically were the children who would visit her gravesite on Hari Raya morning. As before, we stopped by to pay our respects and offer our prayers for her before returning home to prepare for lunch with my aunts.

Hari Raya lunch has always been a long-ish affair for the family. With 3 sisters in the family and 5 children of their own for each sister, lunch would almost be always exclusively for my mother’s side of the family. This year we only had Mak Su’s branch of the family for lunch. Mak Ngah did turn up later but with only her eldest daughter and her boyfriend since the rest of my cousins from that branch of the family had to drive down to Melaka to be with their father. We ended up having so call lunch from 2pm up to about 4pm since no one really had any place else to go before then. Some of my father’s friends from his drama productions stopped by as well during the period so in away it became sort of the unofficial open house for the family. I tried to mingle as much as I could be being the eldest among my cousins, I didn’t really had someone my age group to mix around with. I ended up going up to my room after 3pm to take a short nap since I was already tired by that time.

I woke up at about 5 pm to get ready to go to my father’s sister’s place in Sg Besar which is about 2 hours drive from Selayang. Since we did not made plans this year to go back to my father’s kampung in Pontian, we had 2 places that we had to visit from my father’s side of the family which was my uncle in Sunway and my aunt at Sg Besar. Since she was further, we decide to go to her house on the first day and my uncle’s house later in the week. The trip to Sg Besar started good enough for us before it started to rain when we reached Sg Buloh. The sky then proceeded to open up and dumped buckets on us as we traveled slowly to Sg Besar. By the time we reached Tg Karang, we could see some parts of the town was already flooding but we couldn’t really turn back since it was already quite far into the journey. Thankfully we reached my aunt’s house in Sg Besar without any problems even in the heavy downpour.

Most of the family from my father’s side of the family were less well off than we were but that didn’t stop them from piling on the food for us. I’ve always been a bit embarrassed by how much they would go out of their way to accommodate us when we came visiting as if our family have never gone through the same hardship in life that they were going through now. I really do appreciate what they have done for us but I’ve always wished that they didn’t really go thorough all the trouble. My family may have lucked out and came out better then they did but we never forgotten our shared humble beginnings.

Dinner that night was a simple spread of rice with rendang kerang, masak lemak pucuk ubi, ikan kering, ulam and sambal tempoyak. With the exception of the tempoyak, everything else was exactly what I was craving after the day of eating ketupat and rendang. I even had more helping than I should have since it was quite good kampung eating and that my aunt was piling my plate faster than I can decline the next helping. She kept on saying that I’m lost too much weight during the fasting month and would not take no for an answer when she offered me more food. I’m fairly certain that she was trying to make me gain all the weight back in that one sitting. Thankfully for me, everyone eventually stopped eating and cleared all the dishes before having our post meal coffee which was something that my father’s side of the family would never fail to do. My father’s side were all big coffee drinkers and they would always insist on getting home brewed coffee instead of the run of the mill instant coffee. I think they got the habit from my late fraternal grandfather who would always have coffee after his meals.

It was almost 11 pm when we finally said our goodbyes and started our journey back from Sg Besar. Unlike previous years, my youngest brother, who got his driver’s license earlier this year, was driving the car. Me being me, I could not help but be anxious at the way that he was driving especially when it was clear that he had a lead foot when it comes to following the speed limit. There were more than a few occasion that I had to remind him to watch the way he was driving much to his annoyance. I don’t really know why but having a lead foot on the accelerator when driving seems to be a trait that my brothers share with my father. Hopefully I would remember not to be the same when I start driving myself.

We arrived home safely at around 1 am. Fully satiated and tired after the long day, no once really wanted to do much of anything else other than get ready to go to bed. The first day of Hari Raya has been pretty much the same as our previous years namely it being the day that we spend with the family. Most of the time it would be with my mother’s side of the family since they were mostly in KL but sometimes it would be with my father’s side of the family if we traveled down to Johor for the holidays. It was the time for us to renew familial bonds and catch up on each other’s news up to that point. From the time we were kids it has been drummed into us that 1st day of Hari Raya was for family only. Even after we have all grown up, we would not normally have people outside of the family visiting until at least the 2nd day of Hari Raya.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Raya '07 : 1st Day (Part 1) - Of Family Traditions

(My cream colored Baju Melayu for Hari Raya - better known in the family as hopefully "baju nikah" )

My Raya break actually started the day before Hari Raya since I had a whole boatload of unused leave days to clear before the end of the year. Since I’ve already done my part of the Raya preparations by making the dodol the weekend before, I only had a few things left to do on my raya preparation checklist. Highest on that list was to cut up the huge bundle of the pandan leaves into fine slivers to be mixed with flowers and rose water. This is a very common item that Malays would bring when visiting the gravesites of loved one on Hari Raya morning. We would scatter them on top of the graves in somewhat of an offering which is not really one since there is no such requirement in the religion. I guess it is more of a traditional thing we do on top of the offering of prayers to the dead when we visit.

The whole thing nearly took me half a day to complete since my dad bought so much this year. It’s always been a big chore for me to do it since everyone would insist that the slivers of pandan leaves be as fine as possible. Given that I’m all thumbs when it comes to handling knives or any sharp kitchen implements, it took me longer than others to finish it all. While I was doing that, my youngest sister was busy baking the raya cookies in the kitchen. She has taken over the task of making our yearly batch of pineapple tarts and chocolate chip cookies from my mum since she perfected her recipe same years back. The two cookies would be the one visitors would find most every year at our house. Occasionally we would have a few others that would be either homemade or store bought but you could almost be certain that we would have pineapple tarts and chocolate chip cookies on offer.

My youngest brother would be the one tasked to clean up the house from top to bottom. Out of all the siblings, he is the best housekeeper of the bunch unlike me who would actually let dust bunnies breed before putting a broom to them. The funny thing is that he would always be grumbling when he does it so he sounds so much like an old matron when he has to do it even though he always told us that he prefers doing the house work compared of every thing else on the work list. It’s hard not to giggle around him when he starts complaining to himself about how dusty things can get even when they were all in glass cabinets. He usually would have my third brother to help him out but this year my third brother was still dealing with his divorce and was not much in the helping/celebrating mood. We had hoped that he would have snapped out of it by now but it seems that it would take him a while to get back on his feet again. Till then we all agreed to give me the space that he needed.

My second sister came later in the evening with her brood to help my mum with the cooking. This year we had chicken rendang, beef kurma curry, fish in tauchu sauce and the obligatory Javanese sambal goreng. Being a family with varied tastes, mum always made sure that we had something that we loved to eat for Hari Raya so the chicken was for my youngest brother, beef was for everyone else, fish was for my father who would eat nothing else and the sambal goreng was all mine. Another family raya tradition is that would always have both ketupat nasi (made with normal rice wrapped in coconut leaves) and ketupat palas (made with glutinous rice wrapped in palas leaves) . This tradition came about from us being split in the middle when it comes to our preference for the type of ketupat to eat. Of course me being me, I like them both equally and would indulge myself on them more then I should. Fortunately no one in the family particularly crave lemang for Hari Raya or else we would have to get that as well.

Hari Raya morning would be quite a hectic one since everyone would be waiting their turn to bathe before going to the mosque for Aidil Fitri prayers. It could easily be resolved by have everyone wake up earlier but somehow that never works in my family. The men of my family are well known to be heavy sleepers who always needed a bit help to wake up early in the morning. We did manage to get everyone bathed and dressed by 8 am since we had to be at the neighborhood mosque by 8:30 am for Aidil Fitri prayers. This year, I decided to go along with the whole group and wear both my songkok and samping with my baju melayu. I would normally in previous years be the odd one out who would just be wearing baju melayu to go for the Aidil Fitri prayers. I guess I did make the effort to buy a new samping when I was on my Perhentian trip so not wearing it on Hari Raya would just be wasteful.

After Aidil Fitri prayers, we all returned home to start the next must do thing on Aidil Fitri morning. I don’t know if it’s the same with other families but the act of asking forgiveness on the morning of Hari Raya is always been a hilarious one for me since we all grew up. When we were younger, there was always a somewhat formal occasion to it and we would know when to expect it. Nowadays, we would just end up waiting for it to start since it all depends on when my mum gets ready in the morning after Aidil Fitri prayers. The rule in the family was my mum would start the ball rolling by asking for forgiveness from my father then all the children would follow according to age. So after my mum, my turn came to ask forgiveness from my father then my mum then I would take my seat for my next sibling in line and so on till the youngest sibling. The funny thing is that we would all be waiting around for my mum to start the ball rolling which is becoming more later in the morning as the years pass. It something that we had to do before we could get to eat but no one wanted to jump the queue (so to speak) before my mum had her turn.

After all have been forgiven for the past year’s grievances and finally got to sit down for the first of many family meals, we had to prepare to receive our next door neighbors would come and visit us this year. Since all my grandparents have passed away, my parents’ Selayang house has become the de factor kampung for us. We still have relatives in Pontian but officially when we tell people that we were going to ‘balik kampung’, it would definitely be going back to Selayang. Both our neighbors were in the same situation so on alternate years, we would exchange visits to each other houses early on Hari Raya morning. Some years we three would be the only Malay households left in the area since everyone else had their kampungs to go back to. Over the years, the tradition would keep all three families close to each other so much so we consider each other as extended family. Add to the fact that we were the first 3 households to live in the area when it first opened and have shared many births, weddings and deaths, it would be hard to imagine not getting visits from them on Hari Raya morning.

(to be continued)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Call Off The Search Party ….

Still alive folks! Haven’t overdosed on ketupat and rendang or anything of the sort. Will be updating the blog with my raya entry in the next few days.

Till then some snapshots of the homemade kuih raya that I brought back from home. Not really enough to have an open house with but enough to share for those who want a taste *wink*

(Tempeyek Kacang - homemade from Pontian, Johor)

(Dodol - old family recipe)

(Rustically made from down to up - Tat Nenas, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Rice Cripsies)

(Homemade offerings)

(Care package from home)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri

To all who will be celebrating it, I would like to wish you “Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri”. Stay safe during the holidays and be careful when driving on the road. Bad enough that every festival in Malaysia comes with a now prerequisite total of road accidents and fatalities. There is no need for any one I know to get added on to the daily Ops Sikap statistics.

For those not celebrating Hari Raya, I hope you’ll take time off to enjoy the long weekend. Of course being in Malaysia, it’s hard to think that you guys won’t get to join in the festivities as well. If you do get a chance, don’t look back and just go for it. Experiencing each other’s culture and festivities is part of what being a Malaysian should be.

I am already back at my parents house in Selayang where I would be celebrating Hari Raya at. Most probably spend a few days here but haven’t really decided since no one made any plans yet. I know that my mum would be traveling abroad for a conference on the 18th so if there will be any out of town traveling, it would be before then. If nothing else comes up, I might just came back to Sunway early and chill out though I would most probably be holed up at the gym trying to burn off all the Raya food that would definitely be tempting me.

Still have a few thing to do around the house before Hari Raya. Mostly cleaning up the house and any last minute items that need to be bought tomorrow. I also need to go and clean up my grandmother and stepmum’s gravesites so both would look presentable when we go to visit on Hari Raya day. Last but not least, I still have to dye my gray hairs back to black (well … actually I’ve been using dark brown). Yes … I admit that the color you see on top of my head comes out of a tube. I wouldn’t mind not dyeing it if my grey hairs came out evenly but unfortunate for me, it comes out in patches all around the head.

I’ll continue to blog this week if the mood strikes me but if I don’t, it’s not because I’ve overdosed on ketupat and rendang. It might be due to me enjoying my time with the family.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri & Maaf Zahir dan Batin !

Thursday, October 11, 2007

InBody Check Progress - Sept '07

I finally got a copy of my last InBody check I did at the gym at the start of my sessions with PT. I am looking forward for it as it would basically tell how I did during the fasting month since the last one I took was just before the fasting month started. Looking at the results, there were a few things that popped up as something that I would need to watch out for.
Good news is that I manage to lose 2.5kgs during this fasting month which is a major accomplishment for me after years of gaining weight during the fasting month. It also brings me that much closer to my weight goal from where I was beginning of the year. No so good were the reduction in lean body and muscle mass as well as BMR levels. I’m not quite sure how much the reduction was due to the fasting month but I will need to raise them up again after I come back from my raya break. Most encouraging of all was the reduction in total fat mass as well as the body fat %. I still have a ways to go to reach my goals in these 2 measures but I’m motivated to continue on the current track.

To date, I have been through 4 sessions at the gym with my PT and he has put on his kid gloves with me when it comes to the amount of rest I’m allowed between reps and sets. I have a sneaking feeling that he’ll be less than forgiving when once the fasting month has passed. I don’t blame him for wanting to do that since I’m am myself unsatisfied with the amount of time I need to get through the reps. I often find myself in the position where the mind was willing but the body just didn’t want to cooperate to go through to that one last rep without having to take a break.

For the sessions itself, we been focusing on circuit training using floor exercises, cardio as well as stretching which I just had a session last night. Suffice to say that I was surprised that the stretching session with PT, which basically made me do impressions a how a human pretzel would look like, left me sweating as much as I would be doing the other trainings. In the end it was all good but there were moments during the session which I just couldn’t wait for it to end. Unfortunately it was not something that I could do by myself so would need to find a partner to do it once I’m done with the PT sessions.

Looking ahead, I’m taking a week off potentially from gym if I would be traveling during the raya holidays which I have not confirmed yet. If I don’t then I would probably come back to Sunway earlier and get more gym time earlier in the day than the time I would usually go to. Hopefully I don’t do too much damage during the Hari Raya festivities what with all that wonderful food within easy reach.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dodol – A Pictorial Timeline

Spurred on my last year’s success at making the dodol, I’ve decide to make it a yearly affair for the family in preparation of the upcoming Hari Raya festivities. I had to make sure I planned it weeks in advance to make sure that I had my complement of helpers from my family members as it would be crazy to try to attempt to make it alone. After much cajoling and less than veiled threats on their physical wellbeing for some, I managed to get all to come back to my parents house last weekend to make our yearly dodol. There was some low grumbling but as the eldest brother I get to throw my weight around at least once a year on this.

This year, we decided to switch things around and make the dodol from black glutinous rice flour (pulut hitam) instead of the normal glutinous rice flour that people normally use. I was told that the taste of the dodol made from the pulut hitam is quite different from the normal dodol so I wanted to see if I would prefer it more than the normal type. Since you can’t really get black glutinous rice flour from your neighborhood shop, I had to ask my mum to get it from one of the Indian spice shops in Chow Kit market. The shop would grind up the pulut hitam into flour that they would sell in bags of 1 kg. I wished that I got a chance to go to the shop as it’s not very often you get to see people grind their own flour, even if they do use a machine to do it.

Once we got the flour, next major items to get would be the sugars and coconut. Since I will be using 2 kgs of flour, I had to get an equal amount in weight of palm sugar (gula melaka) and equal amount in weight of brown sugar (gula merah). For the coconuts, the ratio is coconut milk for 10 mid sized coconuts for every kg of flour used. Since we will be using 2 kgs, I had to get 20 coconut’s worth of finely shredded coconuts. Since the coconut milk to be used in making the dodol has to be freshly squeezed, I had to take it back to be squeezed by hand instead of getting the shop to squeeze which they could for a nominal fee if requested.

Once all ingredients were assembled, it was time to put everything together. I took pictures of the process this year to share on the blog for people who have never seen how it’s made. Had to be a wee bit creative in explaining why I’m taking pictures while making it since I didn’t tell them that I have a blog out here. While there will be pictures this time instead of just the recipe, they are no way as good or as artistic as on the other blogs (*waves hi*) so please don’t compare what you see here with them. I count myself lucky if I could keep the pics in focus even when using an auto-focusing camera.

First step is

Chopping up the gula melaka and mixing it with gula merah with just enough water to mix them together. Drop in a knotted bunch of pandan leaves for aroma and boil on a low flame until all the sugar has melted. Make sure that the mixture is stirred to avoid burning the sugar.

After all has melted and left to cool.

Result of the 1st squeezing of 20 coconut for thick coconut milk. It took me nearly 1 ½ hours to go through it for the first squeezing.

OK .. I cheated and used the blender to make it easier to extract the coconut milk from the shredded coconut. It was still murder on my hand since I’m not used to the type of work required. Good thing that I only have to do it twice a year.

The first thick coconut milk batch goes into the kawah with a knotted pandan leave bunch and a handful of salt to be heated under a medium flame.

After about 2 hours, the coconut milk would start releasing coconut oil which signaled the start of the next stage.

The cooled sugar syrup is then strained through a fine sieve to remove any particles before added to the bubbling coconut milk mix. The resulting mixture is stirred using wooden cooking paddles to reincorporate the coconut milk and old with the sugar syrup. The whole thing it left on the fire until it starts to boil.

In the meantime, the coconut is squeezed for the second time to get a thinner coconut milk to be mixed in with the flour. I prefer to do the mixing by hand as you get to feel if there’s any flour bits that were not mixed together properly. The flour mixed is then strained through a fine sieve to ensure that there were no lumps. I also added a bit of rice flour into the mix so the end result would be easier to cut into pieces and not be as chewy when people bit into it.

Once the mixture in the kawah has started to bubble again, the flour mix is added to the kawah. At this point the whole mixture starts to thicken and the heat begins to cook the flour. This is when the back breaking effort of making dodol starts. You can’t stop stirring the dodol from this point onwards or you’ll end up with a dodol that has burnt bits in it which would be hard to bite into.

1 hour into the process – the dodol was still easy to stir and did not look slick to the eyes.

2 hours into the process – it starts getting harder to stir the dodol. You really had to start putting your backs into the process.

3 hours into the process – the stirred mixture darkens considerably. It got easier to scrape off the side of the kawah to be folded into main mix.

4 hours into the process – the total volume of the dodol seems to have reduced to half of what it was but weighs about 5 times from where it started.

5 hours into the process – the dodol looks shinier as coconut oil is released from the heated mixture. The more oil is released in the cooking process, the longer the dodol will last in storage.

6 hours into the process – a reasonable pool of pure coconut oil coming out from the dodol mixture that signaled that the dodol was ready to be taken off the fire. It took 6 of us working in 20 – 30 minute turns stirring the dodol mixture non-stop for 6 hours to finally get the end result. Fortunately we didn’t use a traditional wooden fire to cook it on or else would need to add at least another 4 hours for the cooking time.

The amount of pure coconut oil collected after the process which would be used for cooking.

The dodol was then taken out of the kawah and put into a metal tray to cool down before it can be cut into bite sizes. It would continue to darken as it cooled down and more oil will be released during the process.

Completed dodol. Ready to be cut up into bite sizes and enjoyed as a traditional Hari Raya sweet treat.

Making the dodol was hard work but the end result is quite worth the effort. Not many people can say that they still make dodol the old fashion way. We also got to spend time together as a family to make it since it has to be a group affair instead of an individual effort. They may grumble at the beginning but every bite would be a reminder of how we came together as a family to make it. To say that I am proud of the end result it a bit of an understatement since to me the dodol itself was not just a sweet treat but also represented a link to our family past as well as a reaffirmation of our family bonds.

When I tell people that my dodol was made with love, I know I can really honestly tell them it was.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

CD Review: "Anuar Zain" by Anuar Zain

Being someone who doesn’t really follow the local music scene that closely, I got to know about this latest CD released by Anuar Zain from a fellow blogger’s blog entry. Even at that time, the blogger was already raving about the first single from the CD which piqued my interest but being a non-fan of the artist, I forgot about it in the days that followed. It was only after listening to the said first single from another blog site that I caved in and bought the CD for myself to see what all the fuss was about. Having only listened to his debut album before and didn’t really much fancied his work, I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect from it. Having spent some time this past week listening to the CD constantly on my daily playlist, I now understand why this CD could be one of the best local releases of the year.

The CD opens beautifully with “I’m The Lucky One” which in a way spoke directly to his fans who have been patiently waiting for the release of his latest album. The song sets the stage for those that followed by showcasing the artist’s trademarked vocal stylings as well as the wonderful live strings backing the track. The live strings section in particular lifted the song as it progressed to a lovely crescendo of both vocals and orchestration. “Ketulusan Hati” picked up the baton next to continue the spellbinding experience of the CD. The song starts with quiet anticipation before the artist’s vocals started to unfurl a lyrical tale of true love. Haunting strains of piano and strings quickly gives weight to the whole presentation lifting it to a heady height that was simply enjoyable to listen to.

“Tinggalkan Aku” was co written by the artist himself and was lyrically darker in theme that the 2 previous tracks on the CD. It was hard not to empathize with the vocals while listening to the lyrics that tells of letting the past go and moving on with one’s life. This song is definitely an ode to those who had their hearts broken by a loved one who then wants to comeback to patch things up. Personally, the song was more poignant for me to listen to knowing things that have happened around me in recent months. Fortunately my thoughts were sufficiently distracted by the next track, “Kau Bunga Cinta Ku” which was slightly puzzling to me. Lyrically, the song had a darker theme but it was set in a faster paced retro vibe song which caused me to do a mental double take when I first listened to it. I guess I was expecting a less peppy song to accompany the less than cheerful subject matter in the lyrics. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable song and stood out from the tracks that this point as the rest of the track had only been of a slower pace.

The haunting melodies of the live strings at the beginning of “Tak Lelah” beautifully introduce the artist’s vocals in this song. This song, more than others, allowed Anuar Zain to showcase the range of his vocal skills as it stood out more with the subdued musical arrangement. Poetic lyrics about the ache that one feels waiting for a loved one to reciprocate would definitely hit home to his many loyal listeners. There was an ethereal quality to the whole arrangement which also differentiated this track from the others. The next track that followed was the main reason for me to purchase the CD. I fell in love with the song the moment I heard it and have never looked back. Many has said that this song is his best work ever. Having heard the combination of melodies, vocals and arrangement, I have to agree with them. All of the components came together so beautifully that it would be hard to find another song released this year that was as good as “Lelaki Ini”. If you can only listen to one track from this CD then this is the track to listen to.

“Hanya Milik Mu” opened with acoustic guitar that imparted a slightly Latin flavor not heard in the other tracks on the CD. The vibe lasted throughout the song which helped it to stand out of the pack which it had to especially when following the devastatingly wonderful previous track. I can’t really say that it was a successful attempt but the song was a good enough one to listen on it’s own strengths. My only problem is that it felt too bland and too familiar at this point of the CD. The song reminded me of too many similarly Latin flavored songs out there. In “Bidadari”, Anuar Zain attempted to start the track off with an ethereal quality that didn’t seem to really clicked together. Good thing that the rest of the song was delivered confidently with a quiet strength in his vocals which shined through as the track progressed. Guitars were also prominently heard in the track but unlike the previous track, the infused a more local flavor to the arrangement. It was enough to make the track stand out as well from the collection.

“Jangan Pernah Lagi” was the second fast paced track on the album and again it confounded me a bit with the duality between the peppy beat with the less than cheerful lyric subject. It’s hard to think of happily tapping your feet away while listening to the song that was actually about being betrayed by a loved one. It was this conflict that made me stop to think of how I was suppose to enjoy this song. It had both lyrical and aural components to be savored but together it was just too conflicting to enjoy as a unit. It was not the case for the last track of the CD, “Taman Terulung”. One could not ask for a better song to end the CD experience with than this track. It had poetic lyrics, simple but effective, presented with the lovely strings arrangement that lifted the song to be enhanced by the beautifully controlled vocals. It was hard for me to listen to this track without feeling a lump forming in my throat every time as it invoked memories of friends, old and new, lost and found, that have passed through in my life.

It was quite hard to choose my favorites among the tracks on the CD as all of them had something to offer to the whole listening experience. They were individually strong and varied to showcase both the masterful vocal skills as well as the high production values put into the presentation. The common theme of love in all it’s many flavors seem to be the unifying thread that linked all the songs together. Another common thread is the use of live strings in the arrangement if all the songs in the CD which gave the song an aural lift that we don’t get to hear that often in local releases. As a love letter to his fans, the CD would have definitely exceeded all fan’s expectations. Even if you were listening to it as someone who has never heard of the artist before, it would be hard not to be impressed by the end product. It would be easy to recommend this CD to others who don’t already have it spinning on their daily playlist.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Personal Training At The Gym

Last night was my first workout session with a personal trainer at the gym.

I wasn’t sure what to expect actually since I have never had one and know of anyone who had used a personal trainer before. They were giving a fairly reasonable rate for personal training when I signed up for the gym membership and I was (and still am) in the mind set that I want to do things properly this time. What better way than learning from people who know what they are doing and teaching others about it is part of their job. With that in mind, I signed up for 24 sessions of personal training which should be enough to give me a strong foundation to move ahead in my gym workouts.

Fast forward nearly 9 months later, I finally get a PT assigned to me after about a month of going to the gym and working out to my own devices. It was a good thing that the PT and me clicked almost immediately at our first meeting. We talked for a bit about what my workout goals were and how I wanted to achieve them. From our discussion, I learned that my PT was more into floor exercise to build up the core muscles first before going to the weight stacks or free weights which was exactly what I had in mind. I firmly believe that you won’t really gain much if your core muscles aren’t conditioned well enough before you start on the weights.

We started off with exercise ball squats which looked deceptively simple but really painful to execute if done correctly and if you have never done them before. My knees felt like jelly after 20 reps of doing it which was good since I know that need to work on that more in the future. It was then that I really appreciate how much I have yet to work on to get anywhere near close to his fitness levels. After squats, I had to do balanced pushups, lunges, abs crunches, shoulder raises, lower abs raises, lower back stretches, jumping jacks and shoulder presses. I was suppose to do 30 reps of each but since it was still a newbie, PT gave me allowance to do a minimum of 20 reps and as many I can manage after that. I don’t think that he would be as lenient as he was yesterday in future sessions though.

I’ve seen those exercises done before and other than abs, I never really thought much about them. I guess because they don’t seem as butch as say working with free weights at the gym. Having done them and having my form corrected by PT, I can safely say that it’s harder than it looks. Free weights and weight stacks only work on one group of muscles while these floor exercises work groups of muscles at the same time. I could feel my whole body aching by the time I got through the first set and I still had another set to go. By the time I completed the second set, I was more than ready to call it for the day. The session was harder that my previous gym workouts on the weight stack machine.

PT also made the session more enjoyable by keeping me focused on what I was doing and correcting my form when I start to slack off. It was not all work as he also helped me to understand the functions of the exercises that I was doing and where I was suppose to feel the burn when I do them. In between the circuit exercises, PT kept the mood light as well by cracking the occasional joke even when I felt like I would be in too much pain to even laugh. He was there to motivate me to reach for that last rep when I just wanted it to end and he does that it a way that in the end it’s your choice to complete it. There was no browbeating or just rep counting for PT.

It was really an enjoyable session even if I felt like a quivering mass of jelly after it. I ended up physically spent once I got back from the gym last night that I could hardly keep my eyes opened for my post workout meal. I still feel a little ache in my muscles as I type today’s entry but I can’t help looking forward to the next session when I get to do it all over again. It’s a whole new thing to learn for me and to challenge myself with on top of the still novelty factor of going to a gym. I’m really looking forward to see how I can progress under PT’s guidance now that I’m fairly sure that I’m getting my money’s worth in these guided workout sessions.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Blipvert Update

Blipvert #1

Had my annual buka puasa with my old secondary school gang this past weekend at Subang Parade. I have been organizing this for them without fail for the past 11 years ever since I came back and started working. It started off back then as just me treating them for buka puasa as I was the first one of the group to complete my studies and get a full-time job. Now, it’s has evolved into one of the few times we can get together to catch up on the news of what has been happening in the preceding year after the last buka puasa gathering. I would usually be the one who decides where we go to since I’m the organizer and the one who pays the bill for the meal. It’s a thing that I do every year during the fasting month as one of the virtuous things that one can do during the holy month is to provide food to others to break fast with.

The turnout this year was not that satisfactory as only 2 of my buddies came with their wives. I’m just happy that they were able to make it considering the number of people who didn’t really reconfirm their attendance the days before. Nothing worse than organizing a group meal and have no one turn out. We had a good time catching up with each other’s news and check on how everyone else was doing. Since I had the buka puasa at a buffet, there wasn’t any worry about running out of food to keep our conversations fully fueled to go the distance through the night. We must have just sat there and gabbed for almost 3 hrs since it was almost closing time when we got up to pay the bill. Good thing that the manager of the place already knows me by name so they just let us have the run of the place

Hopefully, I’ll get a better turn out next year. Still hoping that I would be able to one day have them at my own home with a proper home cooked meal.

Blipvert #2

Saw that they opened the access way to the new wing at Sunway Pyramid mall when I was there yesterday looking for a place to buka puasa alone. Most of the shops were not opened yet but the have a few interesting ones that were opened. Seemed like the main tenant for this wing will be the Jaya Jusco department store which was good since the Parkson Grand at the other end of the mall had decided to go more upscale with their offerings. At least at Jaya Jusco, I would still be able to get things that are more affordable for me than in Parkson. Of course that means I should sign up for the Jaya Jusco card again since I can’t find the one that I had before. I wonder if they could just reissue me with a new card.

The also have a new food court at the supermarket level which looks to be under the same management as the one in OneUtama. At least they share the same name so I think they are under the same management. I’m also happy that they brought in the Jusco supermarket section since they carry more products that I can’t get at Giant which is where I usually shop for groceries at Pyramid. I wished that they would get Cold Storage supermarket in but I guess what they had was good enough for now. I can always go to Subang Parade if I needed to get anything from Cold Storage supermarket.

I’ve also heard that the bagel shop at Avenue K will be opening a branch at the new wing so you know I’m just looking forward to that.

Blipvert #3

Bought the new Anuar Zain CD and it has been playing from my playlist non-stop since Saturday. It is definitely one of the more enjoyable listens that I’ve had for this year. I usually try to avoid his CDs as I always felt that he was too popular/mainstream (?) since everyone I know listens to his songs (kind of telling of the crowd I keep). This is the same reason why I don’t listen to Siti Norhaliza songs as well. Too commercial to be cool admitting that you listen to their songs. Not that I’m the picture of what is hip to listen to …

This latest Anuar Zain CD was an excellent buy as I liked almost all of the songs in it. There were a few that made me stop and think which I have not had to do with cds by Malay artists for quite some time. I guess that I’ll write more about it once I get some time to fully digest the album. What I’m sure at this moment is that it’s one of the must buy album for this year. Personally, it is fast becoming my life's soundtrack with the recent developments in my life.

And if you want to look more butch buying the CD at the shop, feel free to decline the free poster that comes with it … bwahaha!!!

Blipvert #4

I will start working with a Personal Trainer at the gym tonight. They finally called me last week to arrange it after exactly one month of me working out there even though I had paid for the sessions well in advance. I haven’t met the PT yet but I think I know which one he might be if I heard his name correctly. I don’t really know if I should be concerned when a PT insist on being referred to as “Boy” when you page him for the appointment. Makes you wonder how old that person really is. Yes .. I admit that I still get called that at home but that’s another thing altogether. I guess as long as he doesn’t start calling me “uncle” then I should be ok with it. There will be hell to pay if I get called that in the gym. Bad enough I get called "uncle" at the shops by the young cashiers.

One thing of note for those in the know, I finally heard “Mr. Hover” speak and I have to say that I had to literally stop myself from dropping on the floor laughing out loud. It was an illusion shattering event just like that other famous person that we will be hearing more of this month. Why can’t people with that type of look have voices that match? Is it asking too much that eye candy don’t have voices that would leave the listener trying their best not to break out into a giggling fit.

Guess there is a reason why people call them eye candy to begin with.