Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Char Siew Pau

That's Cantonese for Steamed Buns with Chinese BBQ pork filling.

Dear Reader, you may or may not remember this post I wrote some time ago of making steamed buns. Of course, the batch which I wrote about was an embarrassment. The second batch I made using that recipe was better, but not great. Prior to that time, I'd made steamed buns twice, using a recipe I got out of the box of flour I bought. They were a success both times. Then, I lost the recipe (sad!) and had since been on the hunt for one which I can keep. Earlier this year, I stumbled upon Lily's Super Soft Pau. I'd never heard of, or used a starter for pau dough, so I was eager to try it.

I'd since made no less than 5 batches and each time, they turned out good (I'd say 'great', but won't that make me sound conceited?). They are incredibly soft and fluffy when hot from the steamer, and remain soft for up to a couple of days, stored in containers at room temperature. Most importantly, when I made them for my mother, she didn't retort with "I have a better recipe for this... why don't you use mine next time?" which, believe me, is rare.

On Monday night I whipped up a batch of particularly good (again, I'd say 'great', but...) char siew paus, and I thought, why not write about it? I am not a food blogger (there are so many, you don't need one more!) but I do have some pretty photos I can post. I don't think I've yet written a how-to post, but considering what I do for a living, I don't suppose I'd do too badly. Alright, Reader, are you ready to learn?

The first thing you'll need is the char siew. Honestly, I don't know how much you'll need... when it comes to cooking, Chinese-style, I don't bother with measurement. (OK, this is not a good start...) Anyway, my mother bought me a strip of char siew from the local wet market, and it looked as if it were about 10 inches in length. The seller also gave us some gravy, usually used for drizzling on the meat when eaten with rice. To prepare the filling, dice the meat, along with 1 carrot and 1 onion. Try not to let your tears drop into the ingredients (I always end up crying when chopping onions, so I assume you do too)

Heat some oil in a wok and when it is hot enough (this may be quite ambiguous for those who don't cook regularly, so if you're one of those, when you suspect the oil is ready, throw in a tiny bit of onion to confirm) dump in the chopped onion and stir-fry until fragrant. Toss the diced carrots in and continue stir-frying until the carrot is somewhat cooked. Oh, I should mention that the usual char siew filling has peas instead of carrots, but I don't like peas. This is the best thing about making your own food - you can replace or eliminate whatever you don't like. Ha!

So, where was I? Ah yes, the stir-frying. Once the carrots no longer look raw, throw the meat in and tumble the whole lot around a little. Now, since I have the char siew gravy, it was easier for me - I poured the whole thing in, added some light soy sauce (to offset the sweetness of the gravy), dark soy sauce (for the colour) and a little water. If you do not have char siew gravy, make your own sauce by combining oyster sauce, light and dark soy sauce, sesame oil and some pepper if you wish.

Let simmer for a little while to let the meat absorb the moisture, then thicken the sauce with a little starch (dissolve a teaspoonful of corn starch in a little water). Cook until the filling becomes dry and gooey. Fine, I don't think that is an appetizing way to describe. Here's how mine looked like:

The filling has to be completely cooled before they are used, so while it does that, you can prepare the dough.

For those who don't like clicking on links when reading posts, here's a copy-and-paste-with-minor-editing of the recipe:


For the Tangzhong starter:
2 ½ tbsp / 25 g pau flour
125 ml water

For the Pau:
All the Tangzhong starter
240 ml water
5 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp shortening
1 ¼ tsp double action baking powder
3 ½ cups / 480 - 500 g pau flour
1 ½ tsp instant yeast.


For the Tangzhong Starter:

Measure 125 ml tap water in a glass measuring pyrex jug and whisk in 2 ½ tbsp pau flour until there is no lumps.

Microwave on high for 30 seconds ( 20 seconds - if you are having a higher wattage microwave). Stir well and continue to microwave on high for another 30 seconds - stirring after every 10 seconds to get the roux to a temperature of about 65C/150F.

For Pau:

Put all the ingredients into the breadmachine bowl starting with the list above accordingly, starting with the starter and ending with the yeast on top of the flour. Choose the dough function on the bread machine and press start.

In the initial stage of kneading, check if the dough is binding, add the remaining 2 tbsps of water or add more if necessary. Do not add too much as if the dough is too soft, the pau will not have a nice shape.

Prepare the filling while the breadmachine is having all the fun.

When the fun is over in about 1 ½ hour, the breadmachine will beep and you can start shaping the paus.

Cut into equal portions and roll all the portions into a very thin circle before wrapping in filling.

Wrap the first circle and so forth.

Let it rise for 20 minutes.

Heat up the steamer and when water is rolling hot, steam small buns for 7 - 8 minutes and big ones for 12 - 15 minutes.

To say I kneaded the dough with my hands because I don't have a bread machine is just saying for the sake of saying. Reason is, my mother has one she makes bread dough with. I never use it because I'm a masochist (ahem!) and I like suffering myself through 20 minutes or so of working that dough from a sticky mess to a smooth-textured ball. It takes some practice and experience to know how much is enough, though generally, once the dough stops sticking to the sides of the bowl and your hands, you're about done. There are some who recommend whacking the dough, but I don't do it. If you're harbouring a lot of suppressed anger and whacked yours, maybe you can let me know how the buns turn out.

Next, the dough needs to proof for 45 - 60 minutes.

I covered it with a clean towel (weighted down with a clean plate because I'm also a paranoid who's afraid the dough might dry out, or the towel might slip off etc.) Then, I watched an episode of House.

After proofing, the dough should be roughly twice its original size:

To make a pau, I weigh out approximately 2oz of dough (I'm not being OCD about uniformity, just that I'm so poorly still, that if I don't do this, all my paus will turn out very different in sizes), flatten it using a rolling pin (try to make the sides thinner than the center), heap 2 to 2.5 small spoonfuls of filling and pleat the sides together.

Since all the photos in the post are taken by me, I have none of myself working at this stage to offer. These are some of the wrapped-and-proofing ones (from previous endeavours, since I forgot to take some of those I'm writing about):

As you can tell, Reader, I've not yet mastered the delicate art of pau-pleating. *Sigh*

Once the wrapped paus have proofed for another 15 to 20 minutes, jam them into the steamer and steam for about 15 minutes. Be sure to place them adequately apart as they will rise even more when cooking.

The recipe yielded 18 buns - 16 wrapped with filling and 2 man tous for my most-of-the-time-vegan mother.

Now, for the close-up:

So, Reader, will you be attempting this anytime soon? =)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Post-Midnight Post

There is nothing extraordinary about this post, really, because most of my posts are post-midnight anyway. What is odd about me writing right now is that it is really very late, I'm feeling rather tired, it's been raining for a few hours (which is perfect for sleep!), I'd been in my very comfy bed, tucked under my very soft and fluffy comforter... but I couldn't sleep. My mind wouldn't rest. Many times I'd complained about these occasional sleeplessness and each time, my friends would ask what I was thinking about. Well... stuff! These stubborn thoughts - they just come and go (or come and stay) as if they own my mental space and my consciousness isn't mine to command. Tonight, specifically, I'd been involuntarily thinking about climbing.

Perhaps it is that the climbing gym I go to will be closed the entire following week, so that I will not get to climb until the week after that. I hate the prospect of missing my weekly climbs. I simply do! So, I guess it is when I can't have it that I can't stop thinking about it. Or perhaps it is that I'd been talking about climbing shoes, climbing rope and climbing places for a good part of the evening, that the moment I closed my eyes, I saw walls. I saw the holds, I visualised the movements, I imagined feeling the triumph of completing a lead route, clipping into that final anchor. I'm totally obsessed.

So, I figured - if I can't fall asleep because I can't stop yearning for a good climb, I might as well get out of bed and do something about it. Climbing is out of the question, but writing about climbing might just get it out of my system. It is worth a shot.

It seems I'd written more on lead climbing than climbing in general, but in truth, it is what we do least frequently. The reason is we don't have our own rope. Sure, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg to rent a rope, but that not-too-hefty amount every week could add up to quite a substantial sum in the long run. The problem with climbing lead only once in a month or so is that we tend to forget the way to solve route. We're very inexperienced still, and unlike the expert climbers, we cannot figure out moves just by looking at the holds. Quite frequently, while on the wall, by the time I'm done thinking about how to get to the next hold, I'd be too tired to do it. One way to get around this problem is to repeatedly attempt a route, such that I become familiar with the holds and the moves required, so I can finish it before my arms give out. That, however, becomes quite an impossible task with the lead routes, since we don't lead every week. We really ought to seriously think about buying a standard length of rope. I want my own rope. I want nicer climbing shoes too, although mine are still good. I want so many things. And they are all on my mind right now!

But that's not all. There's this rather severe overhang section on this lead route we'd attempted a second round. I'd attempted it three times in two separate climbing sessions, and each attempt ended at the second last hold before the dreaded overhang. My climbing buddy, being the stronger and more skillful of the two of us, made it there, but couldn't get past the first hold, both the times he attempted. So, after he got down, we consulted one of the regulars. He was more than willing to help. He said, "Left hand that hold, right hand on the other one, put your right foot where your right hand is, cross your right hand to the next hold, then left hand to the pincher..."

Wait, did I hear correctly? Pincher? Who on earth puts a pincher on an almost-roof overhang?! I never thought I'd encounter the words "pincher" and "overhang" in the same statement! How could I ever hang on to a pincher at that angle? How?

That's another.

Of course, there are still more... but I think I'm ready to go to bed once more, and try lull myself to sleep.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


There are lecture slides to prepare, tutorial questions to set, classes to conduct. There are students to entertain, databases to update and manipulate, talks and training to attend. And it's been less than a week since I got my hands on that much needed software, so I really hadn't much time to get any work done.

That's the truth, but not entirely - I found time to go for climbing and yoga, watch videos on YouTube, learned the next part of a song I've been learning forever on the guitar, and here I am, blogging. Honestly, I don't feel guilty that I haven't spent the weeknights and weekend getting my assigned task done, but I do feel guilty that I don't feel guilty. Does that make sense?

I don't want to tell her I'm "busy" with excuse excuse excuse, therefore I don't have any updates for her. Time is what we make, and being busy is how we find time for the things we need get done. She is way busier and she took the time and effort to check on me. I feel humbled and well... some guilt (for not feeling guilty about being a slacker, of course). I don't want to promise her that I will have something for her by the end of the month. It may turn out to be one I have to break.

So, I promised her my best effort for the next week. That I can fulfill, but first, I have to stop writing now =D

Friday, August 19, 2011


It is something I'd been lusting after for the longest time. Being a little luxury I could use, but do not absolutely need, I've decided to not give in. It is nothing less than crazy to want something so very badly, yet disallow myself to have it. There it was - as I'd seen it countless times before - sitting prettily, beseechingly, imploring me to come near. I went near. I reached out to, took it, held it in my hands. I ran my fingers over it, I pored over every beautiful detail, I imagined it were mine...

I held it close for five minutes. Then, I put it back, turned and walked away.

Gosh, I'm insane!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Whitewater Rafting

It would be lovely if I could just litter this post with photos of the beautiful countryside - the clear water of the river, gently flowing, tumbling over rocks large and little, bubbling over little falls; the bright blue sky, the pleasing green foliage, the host of pretty butterflies - but I do not own a water-resistant camera. Yes, it is quite a bummer.

I remember once a upon a time my girl friends and I talked of going for this. However, as with most of the things we wanted to do, some didn't have time, some didn't have time that coincide, others weren't keen, and, before the plan was even laid out, it was shelved indefinitely. Therefore, when our Bukit Tabur Outdoor Expert asked if I'd like to join this rafting trip he's signing up for, I jumped at the opportunity. Given past unsuccessful "recruitment" of friends, I was prepared to join the Expert and a bunch of strangers. It is funny how when one finally gives up hope that fate smiles upon one and grants one one's desired. By the time I was ready to email the organizers, I had 4 other names to give alongside my own. So there were six of us altogether - just right for one raft.

We were all first-timers, and except the Expert, no one knew what to expect. We were first given a safety briefing and the more I heard it, the more worried I became. For, there were so many warnings: we were to hold the paddle properly or we could break someone's nose swinging the handle the wrong way; we were not to swing the paddle at low-hanging branches or we might cause the branches and/or paddle to knock into raft-mates; we're not to knock our raft-mates into the water; we're not to "rescue" someone in the water by pulling their arms because they might dislocate... and I kept thinking - if I were with careless rafters, I'd so get killed! Gosh!

After the basic safety guidelines, we were taught some basic commands - "forward" and "backward", which meant the direction to paddle the raft; "hold", which meant we should stop paddling and hold on (for dear life) to the lifeline which is fastened to the side of the raft; "boom boom", which means we should abandon our positions at the side of the raft, move to the floor inside and hold on tight, so we won't fall out of the raft during "big" drops.

The distance we would cover was approximately 7km, with 9 "major rapids" along the way. In a bulky life jacket, with a helmet a little too big for my head and a paddle almost as tall as me, it's too late to have second thoughts. Each group then proceeded to carry their rafts to the starting point.

Reader, there are many disadvantages to being a short person living in the average-sized world - some of my similar-height friends prefer the term vertically-challenged, but I don't see what is wrong with being honest and straightforward - like, I have to climb on a chair to get to the top shelf of any kitchen cabinets (no, stools are not enough), I can only utilize the lower two-thirds of the whiteboard, I have to alter *all* my long pants, I have to smear everywhere on the walls because the next hold is *always* out of reach... you get the gist. Before you misunderstand - we are, of course, very positive people and we've always known the reasons it's better being short. So, back to carrying the huge inflated raft - well, it resting upon the shoulders of the guys was it being elevated to the level of my head. When they balanced it on top of their heads, I could just touch it with my arms outstretched. I'm not too embarrassed to admit that I didn't contribute much to the carrying... it's the privilege of being tiny.

The first sight of the river was rather intimidating. The spot at the riverside was a rocky one, and the water was actually white with froth. The rafts were pushed gently into the fortunately not-too-rapid river, and rafters were told to step into the water. One by one, assisted by a guide (there was one guide for every raft), we clambered clumsily into the raft. It looked so easy when the guide showed us how to do it. I conceitedly thought that being a climber, I have stronger arms than the regular girly girls, so I should have no problem hauling myself up by the lifeline... Alas, just as everyone else, I had to be pulled in by those already in, like a big, fat, flailing catch-of-the-day. *Ahem*

I'm not sure I can describe accurately enough the wonderful exhilaration when the raft began moving along with the current. It was all clear and blue and green, warm sunshine and cool water, beautiful landscape and the river stretching ahead as far as the eye could see. It was mesmerizing. And we paddled on - forwards, backwards, forwards - according to our guide's commands, while he navigated.

The first rapid, which our guide called the "warm-up", was not a scary one, in retrospect. Sure, the raft tumbled a little; I held on ridiculously tightly to the lifeline, got soaked to the waist by the splashes, screamed... but it wasn't so bad. I knew it immediately after we got past, because I saw the next raft tumble through it - it looked like it was nothing, and made the screaming rafters appear silly. The biggest rapid was called "The Easy Drop", which our guide jokingly said meant "easy to drop out of your raft". It was the one for which we needed to do the "boom boom". Again, in retrospect, it wasn't all that bad. But at the time, even though I was inside the raft and holding on like nobody's business, I was genuinely scared. It felt like we were toppling over when we dropped down with the flow over several huge rocks. Of course, if I actually saw another raft at it...

At times, our raft would get stuck on rocks, or tree roots near the banks, or combinations of stuff, and our guide would command us to all move to the front or to be back to the raft, and "jump jump", which was simply to bounce up and down where we sat, to dislodge it. Doing the "jump jump" was fun, and watching the other rafters looking extremely silly doing it was even more fun... until it dawned on me that I looked equally dumb doing it. Well, still fun. At one point, our raft veered to one side of the river where several small rocks formed a little island, and became still. Two of my raft-mates started jumping even before the guide said a word, and within seconds, we were on the move again. That was when the guide did an exaggerated facepalm, which had everyone in stitches. Apparently, he purposely navigated us there to "park", while waiting for the next raft to pass the rapid we'd just passed. I figured it must be a safety practice to have another raft within sight when one is going through a rapid, in case of accidents.

There were several stretches where the water was so calm, so gently moving along, and so inviting we were invited to go into it. The first time, I went in, floated on my back and closed my eyes, letting the life jacket buoy me and the current carry me along. Then, someone dunked my head in. Right, so river water tastes better than sea water. The second time, I declined to jump in, after a couple of my raft-mates did. I was laughing and making a lame joke about how I was very comfortable where I was when I felt a tug at my back, and before I knew it, I fell into the water backwards with a huge splash - and had another generous helping of the river water. My friend showed me how much she enjoyed herself by telling me "The moral of the story is, just jump by yourself!" So, the third time, I did. I jumped - then I swam, then I relaxed, and then put my guard down, and got dunked again. When the guide came around to pass us bottled drinking water, I told him I wasn't thirsty anymore. And he - well, he laughed.

The entire adventure took about two hours, I think. Although I sustained some bumps and bruises from knocking into my own paddle and knocking into someone else's paddle, I came out of it much less injured than I usually am after a session of evil routes at the walls. I was more hoarse though (I don't scream as much when climbing, because climbing buddy / belayer frowns upon it, like, totally!)

When I started this post, I didn't have any shots, as should be evident in the opening paragraph itself. However, I'd tarried so much so that there are others who had posted some. Here's one of us, taken by one of the organizers, right after we "survived" the "Easy Drop". We were smiling because we survived =D

I guess my farewell note isn't needed (just yet) after all...

Friday, August 5, 2011


Traffic jam. Jam when it's time to go home. Jam when it rains. Jammed till I'm numb in the driver's seat.

Numb. Numb to the usual irritants. Numb to the unattainable want of a direction. Numb to the increasing loss of the zest for life. Numbed till conscious efforts are needed to stay functional.

Conscious effort. Conscious effort to focus on the positive. Conscious effort to ignore the rest. Conscious effort to be convinced that happiness exists. Conscious effort to not think of all the missing bits. Conscious effort to live each day as it comes.

Live. Live for those I love. Live for those who love and depend on me. Live for those who believe in me. Live for the work I have resolved to undertake. Live for the innate need to improve accomplishments. Live, because I am alive.

I'm alive but I'm still.
I'm still but the days, weeks and months flee.
I'm alive, living, and watching my life pass me by...