|i could go on for 40 days and 40 nights about my blog title and bore you to bits and pieces with 10,000 different ideas i actually had for the name of this blog but because of the 500 characters limit that is imposed upon this mechanism which, by the way, is supposed to promote free speech, i shall shorten it to just two words basically describing what the hell this is all about and who this hell belongs to.|
Sunday, June 22, 2008
how croutons turned into fish food while my grandmother used her secret means of comunication on me
i seriously think that the paternal family seem to be running out of ideas when it comes to the sunday gatherings that i mentioned in two blog posts ago. remember those picnic outings with them in the random parks of Singapore? the humongous portable picnic tables and gaudy Spiderman 3 mats from KFC? the ones that were filled with a weird assortment of foods and tetrapack drinks? the ones where everyone would be talking about their families while my father would be doing his Martin Luther thing while my Robert Kiyosaki of an uncle would be reading his books on politics and anything else that would most likely have a '$$$$' sign on its cover? yeap, those sunday gatherings in the park.
these gatherings, much as i find them morbidly embarrassing, are actually quite enjoyable. given the hustle and bustle of the modern day life, one would actually be quite hard-pressed to find a decent and quiet spot to have a picnic. everyone in Singapore it seems, wants a piece of the green on the weekends. and that includes us. but when we do find some nice spot that is actually quiet for once, it's when i start to appreciate these outings the most. and by 'nice spot that is actually quiet', i mean that everyone else in the park is quiet except for my family who makes as much noise as a political rally. other enjoyable things in the park of course include (but are not limited to) - curiously gay rollerbladers, over-dressed joggers, eccentric old people who exercise in the park with their chinky chunky peripherals, et cetera.
so it was with the saturday that had just passed that i found out that my parents were taking out the disposable plastic cups from one kitchen cabinet. now, when the parents start brandishing the disposable plastic cups around the house, it can only mean two things. one, that we're having the relatives over at our place this coming sunday. two, that we're having the picnic gatherings. i decided to go with the former as i remembered the picnic gathering that we had had just about three sundays ago. it was at a relatively desolate spot of green named, 'Chinese Garden'. there were lots of trees, presumably Chinese-looking rocks, Chinese fishes in a broad lake that doubled up as a reservoir and a pagoda at the end of the garden that over-looked the whole estate. it was a place that was really perfect for an evening's jog or a walk in the park. or as one other gay friend so aptly put it, 'a nocturnal rendezvous for them horny homosexuals'.
cruising aside, it was with the assumption that the paternal family were headed for my place the coming sunday that i started the usual routine of hiding all the carnal stuff in my room. and i know i sound like Mary Alice (of Desperate Housewives fame) when i say this, but indeed, every family has their secrets. my dad would start keeping all my Xbox360 games that has 'unchristian'-like covers inside a discreet-looking cabinet beside the television set. i do my part by hiding that bottle of Baileys and the 42 below from sight. my secret stash of gay porn which i usually keep on a shelf just above my bed would have to vanish as well (Cousin: 'Hmmm.... i wonder what CDs you keep in that CD pouch of yours!' *unzips*).
it was on Sunday morning that i discovered the blatant exposure of the Xbox360 games just beside the gaming console itself. on the top most of the stack was Dead Rising which had a cover of the main character in the game bashing a television set into the face of a zombie. to avoid having to show a demonstration of the various other bric-a-brac that the main character can also bash/slice/dice/impale/dismember into/from/on the many many zombies in the game, i decided to start keeping the entire stack of games into that nondescript cupboard as aforementioned. my very observant father of course noticed this and casually mentioned, 'We're not having nai nai (our affectionate term for the grandmother - literally means paternal granny) and all over today, we're going to Chinese Garden instead.'
i started the not-so-tedious process of replacing the empty voids in my room with all my carnal indulgences again.
the picnic gatherings are always a potluck event. every family unit in the paternal side is deputized to bring a consumable of sorts to the gathering by a quick family discussion. the lucky family of the particular outing would have the wild card of 'drinks'. all they had to do was provide a beverage of some sort rather than cook or buy something that would satisfy the palates of everyone. if it's not a fruit punch or rose syrup, it would be the infamous Yeo's tetrapack drinks or Pokka green tea bottles that are a dime a dozen in the homes of Singaporeans across the island. i have always enjoyed it when one particular family gets the 'drinks' designation. they always provide a bottle of wine or at least some sort of sparkling juice. as the cousin from that particular family once told me, 'Wine is acceptable in the bible context okay!'
unfortunately, my family had had the 'drinks' wild card on the previous outing. so this time, we were designated with a food item instead. my mother, being the other of two members of the paternal family who pushes the boundaries of everyone's palates in the paternal family (the other's the family who brings the wine), decided to try a quick and new mushroom soup with croutons. she normally does baked goods like cinnamon rolls and raisin bread and what-danish-nots, but i guess she's a very exploratory person by nature. none the less, don't be fooled by the simplicity of the name of the dish. because, it may sound really, like the crass stuff you find at western dining restaurants, but the end result is somewhat a work of art. of course, she's my mother and this is quite possibly a biased statement.
it all begins with four can of Campbell's mushroom soup, pour in a fair amount of water and put them all to boil in a pot under a medium flame. it's actually quite entertaining to watch while my mother cooks because she will start singing her church choir songs while she's chopping up unidentified bits of 'things' (which i presume are herbs and mushrooms) that will end up in the pot of mushroom soup. it's as if she's singing the mushroom soup to perfection.
the tedious part however, starts from the croutons. my mother would start by butter a million slice of bread, dice them up into a billion cubes, and bake them into that all-too-familiar crispy, salty excellence that i'm so fond of. of course, along the way, the crispy pieces would start flaking into a zillion bits and specks, which would basically result in a real mess on the kitchen floor. which is why it's so tedious. i'm always the one who vacuums the floor after the baking of the croutons.
and with that, the end results is a steaming pot of creamy mushroom soup with floating bits and pieces of unidentified chunks and croutons. to put it simply, both are just a match made in heaven. admittedly, i have never bothered to ask what else my mother puts in the soup other than the occasional mushrooms. but you know what they say in the culinary world, 'if it looks simple yet tastes curiously good, don't ask what went into the damn thing.' and thus, looking like we're headed to those infamous heartlands Tupperware party traps that sell 'as-seen-on-TV!' infommercial products, my mother packed and sealed the entire mushroom soup and croutons into them air-tight containers. yes indeed, we were ready for another outing at the Chinese Gardens. not forgetting the disposable plastic cups of course.
since the only thing i did contribute to the mushroom soup with croutons was the occasional tasting, some saliva (i can't help but be conditioned to salivate when my mom cooks the soup, blame Pavlov!), and the post-cooking vacuum-ing, i have always tasked myself to help promote my mother's goods. when my mother presented her cinnamon rolls the first time at one paternal gathering, the oriental taste buds of theirs were not that receptive to the whole idea of western baked goods. i facilitated by rummaging through their fridge for a bottle of coconut jam. apparently, they liked it.
based on this success, i have always been the kinda sad guy you see at fun fairs and carnivals trying their utmost to hawk the wares of others. in marketing terms, it's the wrong target group we're looking at. in my mind, it's always like trying to sell platinum bling blings to a group of Chinese aunties. and the only way to make them buy it is if you put in huge chunks of jade into the plat blings.
at this particular gathering, everyone loved the mushroom soup. given that Campbell's chicken soup is pretty much a staple food/soup in my paternal family, their palates were well-versed to their creamy taste of the mushroom soup. my mother's baked croutons however, were left as untouched as a virgin. in fact, the only people who helped themselves to the croutons were the wife of the Robert Kiyosaki uncle, the cousin who believe that wine is acceptable in biblical context, my father, my brother, my mother and me. and believe me, my mother baked A LOT of croutons. it's as if Jesus took the famous five loaves of bread and broke it into a million pieces and one basket of the famous twelve that he broke, was sitting right there in the middle of the Chinese Gardens right beside me.
i tried really hard. believe me. but that wasn't a fridge to rummage into for sauces or coconut jams and thus, it was a hard battle lost when it came to the croutons. unexpectedly, it was at that moment that my grandmother hobbled over to where i was sitting beside the 'basket' of croutons (you do realize that it's not really a basket but merely, a Tupperware right?). my paternal grandmother has been through many orthopaedic surgeries that involve inserting in metal screws and plates to keep her spine upright. i've already lost count of the number of surgeries she has been for apparently. but what i can confirm though, is that she has enough metal in her to build one of those tacky, touristy replicas of the Eiffel Tower. alas, the pain that she constantly experiences upon physical movement is pretty much comparative when i take one of those Eiffel Tower replicas and stab it into your spine and joints. not fun i can assure you, especially when you're already in your late 60s.
which is why she hobbles. and when she's really tired, she needs a hand to hobble up the stairs. which is what she asked me to help her do when we wanted to take a walk around the park to see some of those Chinese fishes as i mentioned at the beginning of this post. it was during this assistance of her hobbling that she always takes the chance to talk to me. she would often ask about my general well-being, my health, whether my father was ill-treating me and stuff of the like. she always knew how violent my dad used to get so she really cared a lot about my parents and me. plus, my father's the only son in a family of daughters, so being the eldest grandson and the only grandson of the only paternal son, i am (IMHO) quite highly-priced in the grand children's market (i must've lost you somewhere in those family connections, haven't i?) opf the paternal family.
so i expected that my paternal grandmother or nai nai as i so fondly call her, would ask how life was in general. instead, she bent low and gripped my hand tight. and she said to me in a sort of forced and hushed whisper yet with a smile in mandarin, 'Ah Than!!' she always calls me by that since i was young. the chinese language apparently, doesn't have a rough approximate pronunciation for the Jona- part of my name. 'Ah Than!!! Don't smoke already lah!!' which came about as shocking as an Eiffel Tower pain in my mind. 'Smoking is bad for health!'
'How did you know ah?' i asked my grandmother in that equally juxtaposed mix of a harsh and forced whisper yet enveloped by a smile.
'How i know doesn't matter! What's really important is that you don't smoke already! Or at least cut down! Bad for health!' that's what i like about the grandmother. she's as Christian as Jesus himself. but she always gives practical, sound and really quite reasonable advice.
alas, the only response my mind managed to conjure up was a flimsy, 'Okay.' there was a quiet, pensive air between nai nai and me after that. as we hobbled back to the table, i couldn't help but wonder who was the missing link in between that led to my grandmother knowing about one of my many carnal vices. was it the cousin who took up the same nursing degree as me? was it one of the relatives who drove past while i was puffing away on a cigarette? after some elimination and mental images of literally eliminating the suspects, i quickly decided that it had to be the cousin. who else really, had the most contact with me outside of the sunday gatherings.
as we hobbled back together to the picnic table, i discovered the 'basket' of croutons missing. i didn't think that the relatives would self-initiate themselves to gobble the whole basket up. it wasn't until i heard the happy screaming and shouting of my youngest cousins, John Chua (the one that was named after me and has curiously effeminate ways) and Grace Chua feeding the fishes in the pond with my mother's croutons. apparently, my cousins saw the other park visitors feeding the fishes the lake with torn pieces of bread from a giant jumbo loaf. so wanting to join in the fun, they searched for the nearest source of baked goods. and being the clever kids that they are, they saw opportunity in my mother's basket of croutons.
and thus, half-gone were my mother's croutons by the time i confronted John and Grace Chua. i decided to let them have the rest of the croutons as my mother didn't really seem to care about her food as well. in fact, she was down on her knees beside the lake with a wooden stick, trying to indulge in a childhood activity of picking water snails from the lake. the icing on the cake was when there were no more croutons left, John and Grace forced me to eat the toppings off a pizza that one of the family members had baked so that they could have the baked pizza itself. pizza = bread in their minds.
clever kids, i say.
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