About

Rendang prep

Onion Garlic Ginger.

Like many others, I learned to cook from my mother.  When I was growing up, the time I spent with my mother, was often while she was busy cooking.  She is a huge advocate of multi-tasking, and always had a long list of projects to do in the house as a stay at home Mom, and I loved watching her cook.  We told each other stories, recounted our day, indulged in some gossip, problem solved, all mixed with Mom’s running narration of what she was doing at the stove and why.  Each time I cook one of her recipes now, I remember how I used to sit on that stool in the kitchen and chat with her, such a simple ritual, but gee, all that learning she had absorbed from her mother was being passed down to me without my knowing.  Eventually I started scribbling (furiously) her recipes as she dictated at high speed in a mix of Malay and English.  Some of the recipes I have in my notebooks have notes like, “Nyai’s method” or “Nyai’s proportions”, my grandmother, or, “Mom said” and reading them I’d remember the stories Mom would tell me of her childhood, and how Nyai used to do things back in the kampung (village) when gas or electricity wasn’t always the norm.  It became apparent to me that each recipe bore a life of its own, a history, a context in which it exists.  Each recipe had a story intimately tied to it.  I didn’t know then that these ‘cooking lessons’ with my mother were making indelible life impressions on me, but in hindsight, am glad it did.  I was learning my roots.

Mom would mostly cook Malay food and I learned early on that the basis of any Malay dish worth its salt (lots of salt) was often onion, garlic and ginger.  As I collected recipes from Mom and gave them infinite life in my notebooks, the mantra “onion garlic ginger” was oft repeated.  I only had to write those three words and I’d instinctively know the quantities I’d need when I referred to the recipe later, going back in time and watching Mom again in my mind, watching her chopping board, and the pot she stirred.  For different dishes, we’d add on different supplementary ingredients, like lemongrass (serai), galangal (lengkuas), or lime leaf (daun limau), for example.  Whenever I asked Mom for a recipe, she’d usually reply with a, “oh it’s so easy!  okay, onion garlic ginger, you know, right? you do all the normal tumis (sauteeing) you know, like, kari ayam (chicken curry, the basics!), but instead of adding XXX, you add, YYY..” Nothing had fixed quantities, everything was eyeballed and felt and gauged and tasted with a clear memory of the resulting flavour and, everything inevitably started with onion, garlic and ginger.

That’s Malay cooking.  As I experimented further with dishes of other cultures, some were similar (like Indian food) in technique or ingredients, or on the opposite end of the spectrum entirely (like Italian), but whatever the dish it almost always begins with one, two or a combination of all three, onion, garlic or ginger, be it in a tumis or a soffrito.

Right, if I haven’t made it clear already (I’m pretty sure I haven’t somehow), then here it is.  I have started this blog the week I turn 33 years old with the intention of immortalising all the recipes I’ve collected since I was a teen, when I started living on my own and had only myself to cook for.  (There was one time years ago that I discovered my precious, food stained, messy, irreplaceable notebook had gotten wet and the ink appeared like it had run mercilessly.  I was in tears!  I swore then it was imperative that I transfer all my recipes somewhere permanent.  The wet pages dried and I found the ink hadn’t actually gone anywhere, everything was still perfectly legible, albeit crumply, so, obviously, I got lazy)  But now I, too, have stories of my own that I want to monologue about, musings and observations I make through my day, mostly through these eyes as a mother to two young children of my own.  I’ve collected recipes not only from my mother, but recipes I return to like my favourite pair of jeans, gleaned from my cook books, the internet, television, friends, neighbours.  Randomly, I would also like to improve on my writing.

I think, basically, what this is, is, I love food, I love reading, and I guess I love talking about myself.

Onion Garlic Ginger.

-Safira

p.s. A little about who I am;

I’ve spent about half of my life thus far, living in different countries following my parents as a child on Dad’s overseas stints, and later my husband on his posts abroad.  Not having much of a sweet tooth, I started out with cooking, convinced also that baking was too precise an activity for me to succeed in.  I couldn’t figure out why my cookies spread so much, or why the brownies weren’t baking properly.  But about three years ago, I started devouring books on baking, practised, and well, I’ve found that I love that too.  I hate cleaning up, probably because I’m very anal about cleaning up.  I cooked my first real meal, mee soto (yellow noodles in complex chicken broth), from memory of watching Mom, when I was about 15 years old.

I have two expressive, shy, gregarious, amazing children, one very supportive husband, and one grouchy cat.  I am a certified Yoga teacher accredited to the Yoga Alliance USA.  I love being outdoors, I lohuhr?ve reading (presently, it’s been a lot on parenting and child development), I don’t watch much television but I do enjoy UK’s X factor on occasion because it reminds me of our life in London, and I enjoy watching cartoons.  I really like Frozen.