Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

Our Living Heritage

This week, the Ninja Turtle had the excellent fortune of being invited to the private residence of one of Mother Turtle’s oldest friends, Auntie Sylvia, with the express purpose of learning how to make ang ku kueh. What? you say.

A little bit of context: just as the French people don’t simply call themselves français when speaking among themselves, but rather from the geographic region of origin: i.e. “je suis Parisenne/Bretonne/Vogienne/etc“, the Ninja Turtle identifies as Teochew, in reference to the Chaoshan region of Guangdong, where her forebears originated from.

Ang ku kueh, or 红龟粿, translates literally to Red Tortoise Cake. Red because it’s an auspicious colour for the Chinese, and tortoise for its longevity, good fortune and prosperity (or so says Wikipedia). Looking at the key ingredients – sweet potato, mung beans, tapioca starch and glutinous rice flour, the Ninja Turtle was pleasantly surprised to learn that this dessert is in fact, gluten-free! (It’d be a long stretch calling it Paleo-friendly with the food colouring, but hey, 80/20 rule, right?)

Although ang ku kueh is still widely available for purchase in local bakeries, the sad reality is, like the spoken language of Teochew, the art of making traditional desserts is slowly dying in this globalised world. Hence, when the Ninja Turtle received the invitation to learn from Lao Sim, a master of traditional cakes, she jumped at the opportunity.

Meet Lao Sim, a mother, a grandmother, an expert cake-maker, a Teochew woman. She has lived through WWII, she has known Singapore before it was an independent nation. She speaks in Teochew, Mandarin and English. She is a living piece of our history.

Meet Lao Sim, a mother, a grandmother, an expert cake-maker, a Teochew woman. She has lived through WWII, she has known Singapore before it was an independent nation. She speaks in Teochew, Mandarin and English. She is a living piece of our history.

As most expert cuisiniers are wont to do, the way Lao Sim treats the food scale borders almost on the ornamental – that is to say, she can be quite unspecific with quantities. When her students requested to measure and record the quantities, they would be met with the retort “ah ka ah ka jiu hor lah, ming jing zhung!” which translates to “a guestimate will do” but said in the tone that implied food scales were for weaklings.

From many years of experience, she works with her eyes and her hands to determine how much of what ingredients to use. Her judgement will yield either a frown followed by a brisk addition of some flour, shaken straight out of the bag, or a slug of liquid into a mixture, or a satisfied nod and grunt of approval, whereupon the work would proceed to the next step without fanfare.

As such, the Ninja Turtle feels compelled to disclaim that despite her best efforts in recording, some ingredients’ quantities weren’t always made clear, hence she cannot take 100% responsibility for queer results. Nonetheless, if you are feeling adventurous, here is a recipe with photos.

Ang Ku Kueh Recipe
Equipment
Food scale
Blender
Steaming baskets
Moulds for ang ku kueh

Preparations

Skin of the ang ku kueh

The following list of ingredients is to make one batch. If you’re making two batches – one sweet and one semi-salted, the quantities must be doubled. To differentiate the two types, work with each batch separately and leave out the red food colouring in one batch, or substitute it with another colour if you’re feeling wacky.

  • Glutinous rice flour 300g
  • Tapioca starch 300g
  • Course sugar 7 teaspoons
  • Pinch of salt
  • Unspecified quantity of oil
  • Blended sweet potato 650g
  • Sweet potato liquid
  • Red food colouring

Fillings

Half-salted filling

  • 1kg cooked bean powder
  • 300g sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup pandan leaf water
  • 3 tablespoons shallots

Sweet filling

  • 1kg cooked bean powder
  • 500g sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pandan leaf water
  • Unspecified quantity of oil

Heat warm water. Add sugar.
Let sugar dissolve over medium heat – do not caramelise.
Add bean powder and stir to a paste.
Add glutinous rice flour to make paste sticky.
Add oil to make the paste smooth.

Sweet and half-salted fillings must be worked on separately. Don’t confuse the batches!

Putting it together

Lao Sim, vous êtes formidable...

Lao Sim, vous êtes formidable…

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Stories

To the women in our lives…

Who have taught us to dare to hope, dream and fight

Who have inspired us to be the best version of ourselves

Who have led by example, what it means to be a woman.

The Ninja Turtle has also been blessed with many mother figures in her life; each bringing a different lesson but they all share one great thing in common – love. Women who have held her when she cried, women who have taught her to dry her eyes, and above all, women who have taught her that crying is an art, and if it’s going to be an inevitable part of life, at least learn to have hankies on stand-by and pizza on speed-dial.

However, this is Mothers’ Day and after all is said and done, the Ninja Turtle has only got one person to thank for hatching her into this world. So this is going to be a reflection in tribute of Mother Turtle.

Mother Turtle brought the Ninja Turtle into this world. Mother Turtle also single-handedly dealt with the Ninja Turtle through her Teenage Mutant years (and by God were they difficult for all). Mother Turtle never criticised the Ninja Turtle’s choice of partners, despite how questionable some of them have been.

However, Mother Turtle’s biggest influence in the Ninja Turtle’s life wasn’t quite so apparent until recently, when all those years of watching Mother Turtle do her exercise routine every night without fail for almost all of the Ninja Turtle’s life culmulated into this idea that when a woman loves her sport, physical activity is something one does for the rest of one’s life. Happily. It’s turned exercise from a self-loathing punishment into a joyful act of empowerment.

In a day and age where media saturation skewers healthy perceptions of body image, so many people talk about teaching young girls to love themselves. That’s all well and good, as long as we remember that the most enduring lessons come not from talking, but from setting a concrete example.

It’s very unlikely that Mother Turtle was above self-critique or dissatisfaction about her appearances; she is after all, a woman who once owned about 30 pairs of heels in various colours. However, the most important thing she’s ever done (or not done), lies in the fact that the Ninja Turtle CANNOT recall a single instance of her disparaging herself. Not once did she ever hear “I’m fat”, or “I’m ugly”, or “I’m on a diet”, or “I really shouldn’t eat that”, or “I look gross in this”, etc.

The same cannot be said for other women; far too often the Ninja Turtle felt a great sense of despair as she hears a grown woman submit herself to statements like “I’m such a cow”, or “no one looks at a fat, old lady like me”. How is a child to respond, when someone he/she perceives as role model, speaks of herself this way?

It’s taken a heck of a long time for this to sink in, but it has dawned on the Ninja Turtle that women need not equate their self-worth to their appearance, nor apply character judgement upon themselves based on food or lifestyle choices. This is the lesson from Mother Turtle, who does her daily exercise with a smile while watching the news, and happily tucks into a beautiful slice of cake over coffee with zero guilt.

There are too many women in this world, good women, good mothers, who undoubtedly want the best for their children. They’re incredibly vigilant over all aspects of their children’s lives, and take great care to ensure the kids are healthy and happy. In doing so, however, a good deal of these women tend to neglect themselves.

Don’t be so harsh on yourselves, mothers. Don’t be so judgemental of your “failures”, so critical of your performance. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s plenty. Your kids learn by watching you, and from one ultimately-non-psychopathic-reasonably-well-adjusted adult’s experience, it all begins with a mother being kind to herself. A child can only love her mother as much as a mother loves herself.

With that…

I love you, Mother Turtle!

I love you, Mother Turtle!

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Running

The Importance of Rest Days

Lately, the Ninja Turtle has been toying around with her running schedule. She recently made a new friend, who conveniently is a fellow runner and lives on the same street as she does, hence, a shining new running buddy (who is not the reluctant GodzillaPin). It’s marvellous to run with an intrinsically motivated runner, but more importantly, it gives her some much-needed female company.

The Ninja Turtle would lay down her life for her pack of male wolves, but there are many times when she misses the company of Ducky, Baby Turtle, or any woman actually.

The Ninja Turtle would lay down her life for her pack of male wolves, but there are many times when she misses the company of Ducky, Baby Turtle, or any woman actually.

As a result of fiddling with her running schedule, however, she exceeded her weekly mileage by about 10% last week. On top of that, she’s found herself doing some back-to-back key runs (LSD + tempo, or tempo + hill sprints anyone?).

Wait a minute… she hears some readers saying. How is that a bad thing? More running = WIN, right?

Well, in the running community, there is something known as Rest Days, or Recovery Days. It’s days when one takes a break from running, to either cross-train or do bugger-all. The idea is to prevent burn-out, overuse injury, and most likely, boredom. Actually, it’s probably to prevent boredom because even runners have a limit to their insanity. At any rate, they are just as important as training, proper nutrition and sleep if one wishes to improve performance. Somewhere along the cheese and cured meats aisle at the supermarket yesterday, the Ninja Turtle felt her legs suddenly turn to jelly. She knew she had to back off the running for a day or two.

Some very diligent people cross-train, but the Ninja Turtle very much prefers to do this instead:

That may or may not be the Ninja Turtle's third glass before 5.30pm. And she is known to eat upwards of 8oz of cheese at a time. Screw the pizzas, bring on the REAL deal.

That may or may not be the Ninja Turtle’s third glass before 5.30pm. And she is known to eat upwards of 8oz of cheese at a time. Screw the pizzas, bring on the REAL deal. In this picture – Gorgonzola, Camembert de Normandie, Jeune Cantal, Ossau-Iraty of the Basque Country and chèvre.

The biggest upside of taking a proper break is maintaining sanity and by extension, motivation to continue running. You know you’ve crossed a line when you start having dreams/nightmares involving running/food. If you have already experienced such debilitating symptoms, the Ninja Turtle prescribes a hot bath, a glass of red wine and a good mystery book, either separately or all together, depending on your ability to multitask.

As for the Ninja Turtle, she started the day foam-rolling, and ever since, she’s been indulging in documentaries of the Hundred Years War, drunk-enrolling in races, drunk-booking accommodations in the proximity of said races, and pissing herself laughing at readers’ comments on The Guardian.

Rest days are necessary. One should come out of a rest day feeling rested, recharged, replenished and raring to go. If not, you haven’t rested enough, in which case, the Ninja Turtle says, take another rest day. In the long run, this small investment of self-care will pay incredible dividends.

Shout-Out: Happy belated birthday to both our dear Swiss Chick and Runner Bean, who turned 29 and 32 respectively, both on the same day. May your birthdays have been beer/wine/cake/pizza-fuelled orgies in which we wish we had participated in.

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