over the hill

Now, that phrase can be rather misleading.

And this is something I had come to learn last November 2013 as I made my way by foot from the junction of South Terrace and South Street where the free Fremantle Blue CAT bus service had let me off (bus stop #7) towards the Challenger Institute of Technology.

Stopping every 500 metres or so, I was greeted with the same response, “over the hill. To your right, across the oval”.

Well, what would have been helpful was if I had been told that it’s a BIG hill – somehow the art of describing how strenuous and challenging the different hills one has to encounter on foot is something only the residents of San Francisco has it refined to the ‘t’.

What’s interesting is my mother has over the course of 5 years or so been trying to make the ‘perfect’ San Francisco sourdough bread.

Having left the ‘brick’ stage some time back with the help of online forums, countless of hours spent on YouTube videos, and many, many guinea pigs who has been or lived in San Francisco as testers, the phase of inconsistent results of ‘blisters’, ‘open crumbs’ and ‘ears’ continues to haunt her.

This resulted first with amassing a collection of sourdough or levain publications by the “who’s of who” of baking, followed by stalking self-proclaimed local artisan bakers, to eventually combing farmers markets of Europe and begging strange Swiss, Italian and French men covered in powdery white substances to Pilates professional moonlighting as organic artisan bakers for private lessons.

Almost giving up hope, a lovely Australian man – Derek – responded to her email queries, agreeing to provide her with some lessons one fine day.

The respond was timely with a last minute visit I had planned for after receiving news of an old family friend who is terminally ill in Perth.

Needless to say our laborious hike up South Street was well worth the visit and the very fact that we had traveled all the way from Kuala Lumpur gave us not only automatic access to the Challenger Institute of Technology premises after hours but an escorted tour around by the security personnel on duty.

Derek on first impression was unassuming and friendly.

While waiting for the rest of the ‘friends and family’ who would be joining the baking session that evening, I went about taking the roots off some onions that would be used later, while he went about answering my mothers ‘technical’ questions.

With the party ensemble at the agreed upon time, class started with Derek explaining the lesson plan for the night and put a batch of flour, sourdough starter and other base ingredients for the white bread with tumeric, feta and onion sourdough; one of three breads that we would make that evening, into a larger mixing bowl.

As the dough was getting a good workout in the industrial sized stand mixer, Derek produced loaves of risen 50% wholemeal with home brewed stout and torrified wheat that he had made earlier in the day, and went about describing the technique of slashing. Once we had all had our rounds of slashing 2 to 3 loaves each, Derek went about preparing the loaves with a glaze before baking them.

Between sips of the left over home brewed stout, the feta cubes and diced onions were folded into the tumeric dough over three intervals of stretch and bench rests before being shaped and dropped into foil tins that allows easy transportation, as they were to be baked on our own the next day.

With drinks drained very quickly from the plastic cups, Derek then got us busy with a quick rise white bread with black sesame which were eventually shaped into numerous shapes and sprinkled with not only black sesame but white sesame and poppy seeds.

Smelling of earthy fresh baked bread, we returned to the hotel renewed with energy and hope.

Here’s a BIG thanks to Derek for his generosity and kindness.

But more importantly for showing that when it comes to sourdough, you can’t seem to be over-the-hill – it takes little strength and effort, and it can be one of the most forgiving bread to make.

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Part 1 of Projekt Foto-Painting… making “skins”

It’s the second day of Chinese New Year … enough of food, though in defense I am lucky to be a peranakanwith grandparents that were Western educated.

*Chinese-Malay parentage that dates back 4 or 5 generations when a pretty Princess was sent to a suspect nationality King – Parameswara (surely he must be Indon!) with an entourage of people including some (Bruce Lee-Jackie Chan ‘kung fu’) warriors (that has been conveniently obliterated from our history books when DNAs existed and diversity and inclusion was still alien) to a faraway Peninsular in the interest of improving trade relationships …

Long story short, none of my descendent were on that ship – they may have died from opium or more probably peacock feathers allergies. But (legend has it?) that someone earlier on in the blood line was a pirate who eloped with  a (not all that) beautiful (judging from the sepia photos I have seen)  girl in the Indonesian royal court and landed on the rat infested shores with occasional sighting of bullish deers bullying tigers (who’s to verify and challenge back in the day where they chop your head off from treason?). The thieving  profession skipped one generation and continued with grandpa who legitimized it as a artifact collector (Western educated, remember?) … skip another boring generation (my mom) … I steal the lamest of things!

Honestly, if you are so inclined, there’s a “on NO! Family” section of our antics and what-nots there to amuse yourself.

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In any case, being a peranakan means I don’t have to consume food that puts the dining table to test on its weight bearing abilities this time of the year. We’re generally happy with a few key dishes from New Year’s Eve and by that I mean, “MUST HAVES” such as:

  1. babi asam (tamarind chili pork),
  2. kari kay (chicken curry),
  3. itek tim (preserved salted vegetable duck soup),
  4. bendi sambal belacan (blanche lady’s fingers topped with chili and shrimps paste)  …

The pong teh (chicken/ pork stewed with bean paste) has long been dropped – I don’t like it – simple as that. For my mother’s sanity itek/ ayam seuh (deep fried stewed duck/ chicken in ground coriander sauce) has been omitted a few years back due to the laborious preparation.

And for Chinese New Year – you’re going to like this – all we had was nasi ulam (boiled rice with freshly diced vegetables, herbs and some finely grounded fried salted fish and dried shrimps) for lunch – which augurs well, having spend the whole morning at Nilai Memorial Park with Mr.B.

So, anyways, I decided that I will spend my 3 days break getting ink + glue on my fingers … and well, I do need to fulfill some overdue photo selection that is meant to be published into postcards and I did promise to make mom a photo book on her quest/ journey to bake the perfect Sourdough/ Artisan Bread… plus, some dreadful work related stuff that I vow not to look at till the night before!

The project (Projekt Foto-Painting) in mind is to incorporate some tribal photos I had taken in Ethiopia with “mixed media” type techniques to create a “painting” … but the key thing is everything has to be acrylic. No photo. No paper. No other foreign matter than will disintegrate some century later … and where the entire painting can be removed from the substrate should it requires refurbishment/ restoration in future.

Ahem.

Not that my work is a Picasso, Rembrandt or what not in the making, but you know… if you’re going to be spending the time and the investments in professional art materials … do it right!

p{Haque} Projekt 1

L to R Clockwise: (1) some carbon prints of the shortlisted photos – though I am thinking I should go with full-coloured carbon prints now, (2) palette knife with Golden Artist Colour Soft Gel (Matte), (3) 12″x12″ 380 gm/m square primed medium grain cotton artist canvas – will be applying a layer or two of Golden Artist Colour Gesso, (4) generic plastic sheeting – I’ve used an old clear folder for me to create the “skin” on 

p{Haque} Acrylic Skins

L to R anti-lockwise: (1) arrrgghhh!!!! discovery that my tub of Golden Artist Colour Soft Gel (Matte) has mostly turned crusty and rubbery at the sides – thanks to Crop.Arty utilisation at Scrap-n-Crop.com over the years where when the “it’s not yours syndrome” happens – people just don’t care or value things that belongs to others or cost them nothing!, (2) I decided to experiment by adding Golden Artist Fluid Matte Medium into the work-in-progress “skin” to try to extend the Soft Gel (Matte), (3) testing the “skin” with a window pane test – the Fluid Matte Medium may have done the trick … “skin” will take another few hours to be dry, but I won’t be working on it till later – some GAC 200 would have been ideal to speed-en and stiffen it a little, but I guess some professional artist have bought the stash – can’t find any to use. 

This is Part 1 … fingers crossed the eventual end product will emerged as I have envisaged. But with art, mixed media and painting, one has to be ‘open’ to ‘accidents’. Sometimes those are really the best!

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Flirting + Thief-ing

Thief-ing skipped one generation with grandpa moonlighting as a grave robber – he used to collect artefacts, antiques and other worthy historical/ collectors loots, amongst which was a beheaded Borobudur Buddha’s head.

Me, being the next supposedly thief-ing generation, have to admit that I have stole a Felix the Cat eraser from Yaohan, The Mall when I was eight and plenty of jelly beans in Primtemps, Atria Damansara growing up. If you think that was all, well, I graduated to exotic cheeses in my college days and I couldn’t help day dreaming that I was Tracy Withney in Sidney Sheldon‘s If Tomorrow Comes, while I was forcibly moved by a human mob of tourist in the Topkapi Palace Museum staring at jewels that’s worth at least more than a third of the world’s countries GDP!

My latest exploit was a month back, sitting across a burly looking unshaven pot-bellied Aussie – that’s not an ounce of the younger (or older) Tom Berenger – in a makeshift cargo container turned office in a piece of barren land with huge pit holes in them thanks to sticks of dynamites that goes off three times a week. With dust perpetually suspended in mid-air, heat and humidity, I couldn’t help but return his direct come-ons with flirtatious ideas of how to secure the bullion in the gold room.

He – the not Tom Berenger – being an ex-ASIO, who has over 30 years experience in securing mines with precious metals and stones was bemused and played up many interesting scenarios of how I would so totally be spending my life in a dingy, badly lit 4′ x 8′ space, which he had sent others – some professional thieves, and ex-covert security personnel and secret agents – to in his “past lives”.

In that one hour, I learnt various countries’ extradition laws, how to survive the bush for four months with a 25L backpack of supplies/ tools (feeling very much like Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games), how best to roast a wallaby, why Alpaca and Llama should not be eaten, never to swim in the Amazonian jungle, how to get your trapped calf out of an Anaconda’s jaw … and many, many more heroic nature related survival guide, plus what its really like to die from cyanide (and why movies are so misleading, judging by how everyone in every Rambo series got it wrong!).

But mulling over it while tossing and turning in bed with the storms closing in on my tin-can roof accommodation, I realized that my ex-ASIO had not imparted any information that would allow me to perform an Italian Job heist equivalent, replicate Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13 (the George Clooney-Matt Damon version, not Frank Sinatra of course) … or what it takes to be Jason Bourne or James Bond!

But like his parting words, “it’s my best and most stimulating 1 hour in 6 weeks here” … that is really an understatement David!

It’s the best conversation I’ve had since the project commenced.

He’s the most illuminating and interesting character – aside from his lewd ways – I’ve met ever since I’ve been on this job – now, that’s 1 year 6 months and 13 days. uh huh, it’s a long time.

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P/S: It’s of utmost important that I learn from David ‘HOW TO CATCH A WALLABY’ before I can even think of shoving it’s sorry furry arse into the bond fire. Why? Read HERE

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