Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kitchen Confidential


If there is anybody I envy the most in this world, it must be those who can cook and do it for the sheer love of cooking.

They need no prompting to approach the stove. They can whip up a mean spread seemingly without much effort, and still come out with a spotless apron and a big smile on their faces.

Me? All I needed to do was spend one hour in the kitchen and I would emerge drenched in sweat, hair dishevelled, my apron soaking wet and the kitchen looking like a disaster zone.

I always wonder, how could this be? Why am I such a hopeless git in the kitchen? To make matters worse, I would always forget one ingredient or the other.

Watching cooking programmes on TV, especially AFC (Asian Food Channel) on Astro, is a favourite pastime, apart from buying recipe books.

As for trying out those recipes, let's just say I have tried a few with no spectacular success, and plenty of failures fed to the bin. One or two did come out alright.

I admit, I have a love-hate relationship with the kitchen. I can cook the basic stuffs; rice and simple lauk pauk (accompaniments to rice).

I know how to make the various sambals; I can even hazard a kuih (desserts, sweetmeats) or two, my specialty being bubur kacang, but that's about it.

People who knew my family shook their heads pityingly. They were all aware of my late Opah's (grandmother) well-established culinary skills and expertise.

Cik Bah, as she was affectionately known (her name being Puteri Habibah Megat Ibrahim), could cook for 600 people at any one time with relative ease.

She was forever cooking for kenduris (feasts) and her various types of nasi (rice) and lauk pauk especially her rendang tok (beef rendang Perak-style), were to die for. [Note: Pix above courtesy of Kak Liza from Photopages]

On top of that, she also took in orders for cookies, cakes and traditional sweetmeats by the thousands come festival periods.

During my childhood, fasting months were always busy times for me for my job was to pack those cookies into containers (mostly empty Milo or Ovaltine tins) for delivery.

In addition to all those Opah also sewed, both traditional and modern apparel - kurung, kebaya, baju melayu, shirts & blouses, skirts & pants - all kinds of curtains, and kapok matresses and pillows.

The thing is, she didn't need to do it; grandpa earned enough to support us. She did it for the love of doing it. She was one of those people who couldn't keep still, and the money was a welcome bonus.

My late aunt Sabariah (we called her Wan Su, being our youngest aunt) inherited Opah's talent for baking.

Wan Su specialised in those heavily decorated, multi-tiered wedding cakes and cakes for special occasions like birthdays, engagements and hantaran (wedding gift).

While my mum's culinary skills left much to be desired, she still cooked better than some housewives I know. It's me who's the absolute no-hoper between the four of us.

It is heartening to note that my youngest daughter Nawwar has taken to the kitchen. She takes the trouble to learn family favourites from her paternal grandmother and tries them at home.

My former mother-in-law, Puan Sri Halimah, who lives in Petaling Jaya, has a soft spot for Awwa because of this. She would turun padang (get going) just to show Awwa how a dish is prepared.

She even taught Awwa her best-kept secret, ayam kuzi, which is now a must in our family on the mornings of Aidil Fitri and Aidil Adha (Muslim religious festivals).

This chicken dish with thick gravy made of evaporated milk and tomato puree is Arabic in origin and is best eaten with ghee rice.

Puan Sri is an accomplished cook. Her Kedah-style fish curry has no equal. She used to make me sit and watch step-by-step as she prepared the curry, but I was too thick to absorb anything (or perhaps my interest just wasn't there, hehe).

At past 80, I was told she still ventures into the kitchen sometimes, especially when the entire jingbang gather during weekends and such.

In this new place, we have just bought a cooker. I am thinking of cooking for the family this weekend. Don't know yet what the menu's going to be.

All I know is that I miss the kids crowding me in the kitchen, getting into my hair, messing up the sofa, trying to be civil while fighting over that last piece of chicken leg and making noise at the dining table.

I know, I know. I am suffering from that empty nest syndrome...

1 comment:

Ann said...

Alaa...no fair la, Ma. Each time I try to "help" you in the kitchen you always kick me out.